race reports

NHRA Pros at Houston

Hartford and Brittany get first wins of year; Todd nabs second win

Results compiled by Kay Burk

Photos by Ron Lewis

Matt Hartford (far lane) got the Pro Stock win over Erica Enders.


J.R. Todd captured his first career back-to-back Funny Car victory Sunday afternoon, April 22, at the 31st annual NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway. Brittany Force (Top Fuel) and Matt Hartford (Pro Stock) were also victorious at the fifth of 24 events on the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.


The event was the first on the new track surface and most drivers and crew chiefs were able to figure out how to get down it.



Top Fuel world champion Brittany Force piloted her Monster Energy dragster to the winner’s circle at the NHRA SpringNationals. It was her eighth career win, first of the season and first at Royal Purple Raceway. She raced to a 3.762-second pass at 299.46 mph to defeat Terry McMillen’s 3.818 at 311.56. The result comes after months of recovery for Force. As a result of her devastating crash at the season opening NHRA Winternationals, Force had an overnight hospital stay and has continued to go to physical therapy.


Following the accident at Pomona that destroyed Force’s brand new car, the Monster Energy team pulled out 2017’s championship car and this weekend they debuted another new car.

"Unfortunately, at the first race we damaged a car that was just like this one, so we had to put the old one back together with some parts that got damaged in the wreck,” explained Top Fuel consultant Alan Johnson. “It took a couple races to kind of get that dialed in and put this new car together and it all kind of came together.


“It's extremely important to get that win, to get that monkey off her back. She has confidence now; the crew has confidence. We're looking to do pretty good in the next few races."


Brittany competed against Terry Haddock, Doug Kalitta, and Tony Schumacher before winning against McMillen in the final. She jumps to seventh in the NHRA Mello Yello Points standings.

Steve Torrence remained winless in his home state after dropping a narrow decision to No. 1 qualifier and track record-holder Leah Pritchett in the second round. Pritchett’s 3.740/320.36 defeated Torrence’s 3.778/312.64.


Despite the loss, Torrence heads into the Charlotte, NC, race tied with Tony Schumacher at the top with 385 points apiece.


Torrence’s father, Billy, qualified ahead of his son at No. 4 and made it out of the first round with a win over an off-pace Kebin Kinsley, but then fell to Terry McMillen.



J.R. Todd powered his DHL/Wix Filters Toyota Camry to a pass of 3.955 seconds at 313.29 mph to defeat defending world champion Robert Hight in the final round. Hight turned in a 3.993 at 308.14 mph. Todd is the third driver in Royal Purple Raceway history to have won in both Top Fuel and Funny Car. This is his second straight win of the season and 13th of his career. It marks the best start in history for the Kalitta Motorsports team with four wins in the first five races.


“It’s nice to have this much momentum early in the season,” Todd stated. “We struggled really bad last season and didn’t really turn around till probably the Western Swing. It’s nice for Kalitta Motorsports as a whole to come out swinging at these races this year.”


After the race Todd was asked if he felt at home in a Funny Car after moving from Top Fuel 29 races ago.


“I guess. My fire suit is dirty and my hands are dirty and I’m still driving it all over the place, so I’m trying to be a Funny Car driver,” he said with a smile.

The fifth race in NHRA's 2018 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series set the driver of the Levi, Ray and Stroup Ford Shelby Mustang up for success, and Tim Wilkerson wheeled his way all the way to the semifinals in his best race day performance of the season.


Todd defeated Tommy Johnson Jr. (3.955/321.73 to 3.989/309.49), Jeff Diehl (3.985/309.70 to 9.175/48.27) and Tim Wilkerson (4.017/309.06 to 6.604/145.45) before entering the final round.


After qualifying at the top of the qualifying list, reigning Funny Car world champion Robert Hight had his second consecutive runner-up finish at the NHRA SpringNationals.


Hight had the quickest Funny Car all day posting low ET during the first three rounds. He opened race day with a blistering 3.878-second run at 322. 42 mph. His elapsed time and the speed stood up as category leaders for the event. It was even more impressive considering Hight was on a solo run after Todd Simpson was pushed back from the starting line.

In the second round Hight posted the quickest run of the round against Jonnie Lindberg running 3.95 at 310.84 to Lindberg’s 4.002/305.56.


In the semifinals, racing veteran Jack Beckman, Hight again was low ET of the category lighting up the scoreboard with a strong 3.959-second run which was the only sub four-second run of that round. The three round wins moved Hight up to fifth in the Mello Yello points standings.



Matt Hartford drove to his first career winner’s circle after taking down the hometown hero Erica Enders at Houston. His pass of 6.552 at 211.36 in his Total Seal Chevrolet Camaro was enough to make him the 66th different Pro Stock driver to win in NHRA history. Enders ran 6.570 at 210.50.


“We started in the back half of the field today and had to work our way through,” Hartford stated. “We earned this. We did a better job with our car today than the other teams. My driving is not why we won today and that is a fact. My crew tuned the car enough for us to be able to drive around her [Enders] at the end.”


The Pro Stock class was set to be cut from some of the national events at the beginning of this season, but the NHRA gave the owners and racers another chance to increase the popularity of the class.

“First thing I have to say is thanks to (Elite Motorsports owner) Richard Freeman,” Hartford said after the win. “He called me and all but begged me to come out and race this year. He wants to save the class; we all want to save the class. This win is a dream come true. Everybody who is involved with this car, I can’t be here without them. They always say to be the best you have to beat the best, and that’s what I did today.”


Hartford faced Chris McGaha (6.537/211.13 to 6.545/211.39), Tanner Gray (6.530/211.26 to foul) and Jeg Coughlin Jr. (6.564/210.83 to 10.727/98.44) to enter the first final round of his career. Enders took down Vincent Nobile (6.537/211.13 to 6.534/210.93) Rodger Brogdon (6.529/211.03 to 19.247/40.33) and No. 1 qualifier Greg Anderson (6.561/209.95 to 6.572/212/23).


Greg Anderson reset the track Pro Stock elapsed time and speed records on the way to earning the No. 1 qualifier honor for the third event in a row.

Greg Anderson’s 6.514/211.46 defeated Alex Laughlin in the second round when Laughlin’s Camaro went into tire shake.


In the first round of qualifying Anderson, the driver of the red Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro, clocked a 6.492-second pass at 213.00 mph that reset both ends of the Royal Purple Raceway track record. The pass was also the ninth quickest since Electronic Fuel Injection was mandated at the beginning of the 2016 season in place of old-school carburetors to provide fuel to the naturally aspirated Pro Stock engines.


"You don't get conditions like this but maybe once or twice every year, if you're lucky," said Anderson, who was No. 1 in Houston in 2004 and 2016. "It just puts a smile on your face, and you lick your chops. We don't have a supercharger where we can influence the air and speed up the blower if we have bad conditions outside. We're just dependent on what Mother Nature gives us. These are the conditions that Pro Stock racers love."

Coughlin was back in bright yellow at Houston.


After struggling through the first four races of the year, winning just one round and failing to qualify in the top half of any elimination ladder, Coughlin came to life Sunday in the Lone Star State, qualifying second overall and speeding through to the semifinals before shaking his tires and losing to part-timer racer Matt Hartford, who uses Elite Performance motors.


"It's really disheartening to have that fastest car (of the previous elimination round) and go out and shake the tires (against Hartford) after having him by two hundredths (of a second) on the tree. Are we upset? At the moment, yes. Are we happy with the turn around and the gift we've been given from Larry (Morgan)? Absolutely."


The "gift" Coughlin received from Morgan is the use of his racecar. Coughlin had already tried two different chassis in the first four races to no avail, prompting his neighbor from Ohio to suggest he take his car for a spin.


"Larry's not racing at the moment and he was generous enough to offer up his car to see if that would make a difference," Coughlin said. "We knew all along we had the horsepower so we've been going through a process of elimination to figure out what's been wrong. I think it's safe to say we figured

it out.”

In only his second race of the year, John Gaydosh continues to improve his performance behind the wheel of his Gaydosh Performance Chevrolet Camaro.


Right out of the chute, in the first qualifying session of the 2018 NHRA Springnationals, Gaydosh ran an elapsed time of 6.592 at 210.93 mph. He made three more clean qualifying passes, but his solid Q1 pass remained his best run of the weekend and put him in the No.14 spot.


“The new surface and track conditions here at Royal Purple Raceway were a little hard to handle during qualifying,” Gaydosh said. “It was very bumpy going through high gear and the left lane was hard to maneuver, but we made some good passes.”


In Round One, Gaydosh faced No. 3 qualifier Tanner Gray. Right off the start, the Gaydosh Performance Chevrolet Camaro made a quick move towards the wall, but Gaydosh was able to reel it in. Gray took the win 6.539/210.54 to Gaydosh’s 6.708/208.91.


"The car went into a big wheelie and when I came down I made a hard turn towards the wall,” Gaydosh explained. “Sometimes it is hard to handle all that power off the line. We just need to make more laps to get a handle on this car. That means trying to get more sponsorship to go to more races.”

After a whirlwind rookie season, Tanner Gray seems to have hit that proverbial “sophomore slump.” In his second-round match with Hartford, Gray turned on the dreaded red light.  



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