Las Vegas TAFC winner – Ulf Leanders

Word Brad Littlefield

Swedish brothers Ulf and Jörgen Leanders have become feared as Top Alcohol Funny Car competitors and relied upon by racers as manufacturers of the innovative Leanders Clutch. While they have shared in countless victories and championships with customers in several continents in the past decade, Ulf Leanders was able to drive the flagship Chevy Camaro to his second career national event at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

One hallmark of Leanders’ team is a willingness to try things they weren’t previously accustomed to, a carryover from the shorter racing seasons in Europe where teams have more time at the shop to expand on new ideas. Little from his current race car resembles what Leanders drove to victory at the 2015 NHRA Gatornationals, including a Miner Bros. Racing Enterprises engine that was installed earlier this season.

“Early this year, we switched to a Miner engine,” said Leanders. “We’ve been working with it since. We like the engine combination. It’s a really good motor. We are teamed up with the Gasparrelli team right now. We work with Steve Gasparrelli on Bob Miner on the engine combination and share information. So far, it has been working out great.”

Leanders qualified No. 3 with a 5.49 in a loaded field. Everybody he raced during eliminations – Sean Bellemeur, John Lombardo Jr., Brian Hough, and three-time Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon – was a multiple-time national event winner. The race with Lombardo effected the national title chase as it effectively eliminated Lombardo from contention one round before Doug Gordon’s elimination clinched the title for Shane Westerfield.

The level of competition and the championship implications did little to phase the mild-mannered Leanders.

“There are a lot of good cars,” said Leanders. “The teams are real tough. It’s fun. I really like it. It’s nice when there are a good bunch of cars who come to race.”

Leanders advanced to the semifinal round based on performance. In the last two rounds, he relied on a bit of luck and an able right foot. He overcame tire shake in a pedalfest against Hough. The final was scarier as Leanders, who had no idea what was happening behind him, pedaled to a 6.84 while Dixon made a 180-degree turn. Fuel got under the right tire of the Tony Bartone-owned entry, and Dixon nearly took out the Christmas Tree before the car hit the wall in the opposite lane and came to a stop.

“The car ran pretty good all weekend long,” said Leanders. “We had a couple issues in the final. It started shaking the tires a little and taking the tires off. The track gets a bit tricky when it gets hot. I pedaled the throttle a couple times, but we did it. Here we are. We had a little luck in the final there. That was a bad thing that happened to Larry and Bartone.”

Leanders thanked sponsors Precision Die Cutting, Lucas Oil, HAAS Automation, and Organic Food? – He tipped his proverbial cap to the many flag-waving Swedish fans in attendance.

“There were a bunch of Swedish fans and friends here,” said Leanders. “A lot of people come here as a joint venture to go to the race and stay for the SEMA show. Some of them will stay for the Pomona race. It was really fun to have some of the Swedish people visit us at the race and share in the win.”