In the second round, Bo Butner eliminated Chris McGaha, and in the semifinals he ousted Summit teammate Greg Anderson to reach the 13th final round of his young Pro Stock career. Butner was also a finalist last weekend in Denver, and so far, he has three wins in the extremely competitive category.
"It was a very good race, and I can't complain," said Butner, who retains the points lead leaving Sonoma. "The car keeps getting better, and I feel more confident every time I go up. I've been racing a long time and have raced a lot of different cars – you just have to tell yourself that this isn't rocket science. You have to go up there and do your job. It's been working.
"Going into the final, I thought I was going to win. Especially when we had lane choice. I thought if we could be .020 [on the tree], we could win the race. But they're doing a very good job over there. If Tanner keeps his head clear, he's going to be tough to beat."
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
LE Tonglet finished atop the Pro Stock Motorcycle field with a 6.783 pass at 197.02 on his Nitro Fish Racing Suzuki to narrowly defeat Matt Smith in the final round. After securing his first Mickey Thompson Tires Pro Bike Battle on Saturday, he notched his fifth national event victory of the season and 15th of his career.
Prior to entering the finals, Tonglet defeated Fred Camarena, Angie Smith and Hector Arana Jr. Matt Smith powered past Steve Johnson, Eddie Krawiec and defending world champion Jerry Savoie before facing Tonglet.
“It’s a big benefit to win the battle the day before which builds your confidence going into Sunday,” Tonglet said. “I could hear him (Smith) the whole way and knew it was close. I wanted to look over very badly, but I just stayed tucked in and just stared at the win light and it lit which was exciting.”
Tonglet remains the points leader, while Krawiec continues to hold on to the second position.
J.R. Todd was the reigning Top Fuel winner at Sonoma, but this year he would earn the 10th starting spot after switching to the Funny Car class. Unfortunately, his teammate, Alexis DeJoria, was the seventh seed leading to a first-round matchup of the two Toyota Racing Camrys. Todd got the advantage over DeJoria at the starting line and was able to take that advantage to the stripe, earning the holeshot round win.
That advanced him to the quarterfinals where he faced John Force for the first time. Todd was away first again, and his crew chiefs, Jon Oberhofer and Todd Smith, were on it with the best run of the session, a 3.973, giving Todd the round win to move to the semi-finals.
In the semifinal against Jack Beckman, Todd's DHL Toyota Camry had immediate issues, but never gave up. Beckman was ahead but broke and was idling down the track. Todd pedaled and pedaled, got the DHL Toyota to cooperate, and he was able to just drive by Beckman at the stripe moving Todd to the final round for the first time in since Charlotte and the second time in his short Funny Car career.
In the final, Todd was away first and drove his DHL Toyota straight down the track to defeat a tire-smoking Tim Wilkerson.
Tim Wilkerson and his relentless crew put in more than their fair share of blood, sweat and tears this weekend, and their efforts paid dividends. In fact, the tireless nature of Wilkerson and company nearly culminated in victory at the 30th annual NHRA Sonoma Nationals, but the driver of the Levi, Ray and Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang came up just one win light shy.
Wilkerson remains No. 8 in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car standings and is eager to get to Seattle in less than a week, where he and his team hope to go the distance and extend their lead on No. 9 man J.R. Todd, who is nipping at their heels. Wilkerson and Todd raced in the final in Sonoma, where his opponent got the nod and closed the gap to three points.
Wilkerson knocked out Cruz Pedregon, No. 1 qualifier Robert Hight, and Courtney Force en route to the 39th final of his career and second of the season.
"We broke an airline off the throttle switch that tells every operational part of the car to start. It's pneumatically controlled, but it's electronic and has to see a signal to start," said Wilkerson. "That hose was either knocked off before the run or when I stepped on the gas. We don't know which. It started spinning about 60 feet out. It's just another way to lose. There are a million ways to lose and one way to win, and we had plenty of lucky breaks today. The last one just went the other way."
Robert Hight set the national speed record at a 339.87 mph with his 3.807-second pass in his Auto Club of Southern California / California Highway Patrol Chevy Camaro during the second qualifying session.
The pass was the third quickest in history, while the speed was the fastest in the history of the NHRA, and the first over 339 mph.
“When you have Jimmy Prock as your crew chief, he tries to get everything he can out of that race track,” Hight said. “It’s the coolest noise when you hear that nitro engine running up that kind of RPM; it’s music to your ears.”
Four months after recording his first Pro Stock national victory by defeating fellow Chevrolet driver Bo Butner, Tanner Gray took down the class points leader again in the final of the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals.
Gray’s pass of 6.572 seconds in the Gray Motorsports Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro was four-thousandths of a second quicker than the Jim Butner Auto Sales Chevrolet Camaro SS that was the No. 2 qualifier. Gray, who also won in late May at Topeka, Kansas, tied Butner with a class-leading three victories.
“I just want to thank Gray Motorsports, Valvoline, Chevy, and just everybody who makes this thing happen,” said Gray, the 18-year-old North Carolinian and No. 5 qualifier. “This is kind of surreal to come out here and be able to (win for the third time). There have been nine different winners already, so that shows how competitive this class is.“
Todd gets first FC win
Results compiled by Kay Burk
Photos by Mike Burghardt and Steve Justice
It was a good day for the young guns in drag racing as (from left) Tanner Gray, J.R. Todd, Steve Torrence, and LE Tonglet raise their trophies.
J.R. Todd powered to his first career Funny Car victory Sunday at the 30th annual Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway.
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock), and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were also victorious in their respective categories at the 15th of 24 events on the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.
Steve Torrence moved a step closer to winning the NHRA regular season championship when he drove his Capco Contractors Top Fuel dragster to an impressive victory.
In a final round showdown with close friend Antron Brown, Torrence won wire-to-wire, grabbing a starting line advantage (.051-.063) and then pulling away with a time of 3.784 seconds at 329.42 miles per hour that easily covered Brown’s 3.974. The win ended Brown’s hopes of earning a second sweep of the three races in the grueling Western Swing.
It was Torrence’s first win at Sonoma Raceway but it was his sixth in the last 10 Mello Yello tour events and it enabled him to stretch out his advantage over Brown and Leah Pritchett with just three races remaining before the points are adjusted for the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship.
Torrence gave all the credit to his tuners, crew chief Richard Hogan and car chief Bobby Lagana Jr., and to a crew of self-described outlaws that has transformed the Capco hybrid into the most dominantly consistent car in the series.
After running his season record to 38-9, Torrence will start Friday’s first qualifying session at Seattle leading Brown by 75 points and Leah Pritchett, another of the Don Schumacher Racing drivers, by more than 100.
“No, we’re not going to change anything,” Torrence. “We’re just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing. Hogan’s been spot on making adjustments and that’s what this game is all about. You have to be able to adapt and these guys do that every weekend. I love ‘em.”
For the first time in 15 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events this year, DSR did not win a nitro title on Sunday in the NHRA Sonoma Nationals. Through the first 14 races, DSR had won 19 of a possible 28 nitro titles.
Last year, DSR also couldn't find the way to the Sonoma winner's circle
But three-time and reigning Top Fuel world champion Antron Brown and the Matco Tools/U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster led by crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Mark Oswald advanced to its eighth final round and third straight.
"We would have liked to have won here and kept the sweep going,” Brown said, “but getting the runner-up, we can't hang our heads. This week, we started off a little rough on Saturday but we still had a great qualifying - we qualified No. 4. Going into race day today, our Matco Tools/U.S. Army boys were steady, smooth and consistent. We just did what we needed to do to win each round.
"In the final, we thought we had to step up there but, at the step of the throttle, we had an ignition problem where the car was literally operating not even on the full ignition system because we had no power. Then it lost a hole going down the racetrack while Steve and those boys did what they needed to do to win, so hats off to them."
Brown started this season holding a 20-1 winning advantage over Torrence, but Torrence has won three of four meetings with Brown and won the last three times they met in a championship round.
Although their performance on Sunday didn’t match their two-day qualifying performance, Leah Pritchett remains as proud of her team as she was after winning their fifth No. 1 qualifying position and setting a fifth track elapsed time record.
On Friday Pritchett secured the No. 1 qualifying spot when she blasted to a time of 3.669 at a slowing speed of 304.80 mph that still set the track's elapsed time record.
On Sunday, Pritchett lost in the second round when a mechanical issue slowed her to a 3.897-second run at 214.09 mph in an upset by Terry McMillen when clutch lever malfunction that led to her engine losing a cylinder.
"Terry McMillen beat us to the finish line. Broken parts can break hearts but it can't break our spirit when we go to Seattle," Pritchett said of next weekend's finale to the three-week Western Swing.
Brittany Force set the Top Fuel track speed record of 331.61 mph in winning her first round of eliminations in the Monster Energy Chevrolet dragster. Force, the No. 2 qualifier, advanced to the semifinals for the second consecutive event and the fourth time in the past six races. She fell to Top Fuel points leader and eventual event winner Steve Torrence.
VOLUME XIX, NUMBER 7 - JULY 2017
DRAGRACINGOnline will be published on or around the 8th of each month and will be updated throughout the month.
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Editor & Publisher, CEO Jeff Burk
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Matt Smith had his best event of the year and came oh-so-close to the magic 200-mph mark with a 6.800 at 199.88 mph in his first-round defeat of Steve Johnson.
Smith then ran 6.854/199.20 to defeat Eddie Krawiec’s 6.886/196.30 in the second round and 6.819/197.71 to Jerry Savoie’s 6.846/198.73 in the semi.