race reports

NHRA pros at Dinwiddie, Virginia

A New Track, A New Era


Results compiled by Kay Burk

Photos by Ron Lewis and Chris Haverly

(Ron Lewis photo)


Virginia Motorsports Park has been completely redone since being purchased by racer Tommy Franklin. Although many of the veteran NHRA drivers had competed at VMP previously, the all-concrete track surface was new to all of them, making for a truly “level playing field.”

The teams were happy with the racing surface and the fans welcomed the return of the NHRA Big Show by completely selling out of tickets on Saturday.



Steve Torrence


Facing a major challenge from veteran Clay Millican, Steve Torrence responded impressively Sunday at Virginia Motorsports Park where he drove his Capco Contractors Top Fuel dragster past the Mac Tools dragster of Doug Kalitta in the final round of the 10th NHRA Virginia Nationals.


In winning for the fourth time this season and for the 12th time in the last 30 Mello Yello tour events, the 35-year-old Texan deftly avoided the upset virus that afflicted so many including Millican.


While Millican, Leah Pritchett, eight-time series champion Tony Schumacher and reigning champion Brittany Force all were on the sidelines before the semifinals, Torrence marched methodically to his 20th career Top Fuel victory with times of 3.818, 3.799, 3.837 and 3.812 seconds.


Not that his race day was not without its drama.


Even though crew chief Richard Hogan and car chief Bobby Lagana Jr. did a masterful job in avoiding the traction trap that snared so many teams in the Virginia heat, it was Torrence’s starting line skill that got the point leader to the finish .007 of a second ahead of Terry McMillen in round two despite a slightly slower track time.


Meanwhile, Millican, who had closed the gap between himself and Torrence to just 25 points with back-to-back wins at Topeka, Kan., and Chicago, Ill., lost to Leah Pritchett in round one and, as a result, will trail Torrence by 108 points when qualifying begins Friday, June 15, in the 18th annual Fitzgerald USA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol, Tenn.

Doug Kalitta


Doug Kalitta did not have the qualifying portion of the weekend he would have liked, but the Mac Tools team made it count on the clean pass they made on Friday evening, which was good enough for fourth overall.


Kalitta drew second-time competitor, Canadian Dan Mercier, in the first round. The Mac Tools machine struggled down the track with dropped cylinders, but Kalitta was able to just hold on for the round win.


Next up proved to be Leah Pritchett. The Mac Tools driver got the advantage at the starting line, and never trailed. The Jim Oberhofer-tuned machine made a clean pass down the track and defeated Pritchett, who had problems the whole way.


The semi-final round was another bout with his teammate Richie Crampton; the eighth time the teammates have already faced each other this season. Kalitta moved first and struggled downtrack, but beside him, Crampton was struggling even more, and Kalitta moved to his third final round of the season.


However, a second win this season wasn't in the cards for Kalitta. He moved first, but his opponent, Steve Torrence, was able to get back around him and get the race win.

Terry McMillen 


Terry McMillen and his AMALIEⓇ Motor Oil XTERMIGATORⓇ team continue to build towards their best season, posting his third #3 qualifying effort of his career and an opening round win at Virginia Motorsports Park against Terry Haddock. In round two of eliminations, McMillen faced points leader Steve Torrence in a close showdown that found McMillen with the quicker elapsed time but 0.0077 seconds short at the finish line, giving Torrence the hole-shot victory. McMillen’s 3.796 run was the best of eliminations and second best of the event. Torrence’s .071 reaction time to McMillen’s 0.81 was the difference in the race.


“I really hate being on that end of losing,” McMillen said of the loss. “I never saw him (Torrence). I could hear him, but I couldn’t see him. It was just a good old fashion drag race.”

John Force watches as the crew gets daughter Brittany ready to run. Brittany, who went up in smoke early and couldn’t recover, lost in the first round to Bill Litton, who went on to lose to Antron Brown in the second after dropping cylinders.

Canadian Dan Mercier was one of the 15 Top Fuel drivers at Virginia. He fell to Doug Kalitta in the first round. 




Courtney Force dominated the tenth race of the season by every metric, qualifying No. 1, running low ET, top speed and winning the race. The Funny Car points leader extended her lead and powered her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car to her fourth victory of the season defeating father John Force in the final.


In what was the 50th all John Force Racing Funny Car final round, Courtney outraced John with a 4.039-second pass at 321.96 mph to his 4.076-second pass at 307.65 mph.


She began the day by defeating Jeff Diehl in the opening round before running quickest of the weekend with a 3.972-second pass at 325.45 mph to defeat Jim Campbell in round two. She then took out 2018 two-time winner J.R. Todd before facing off with her father in the final.


“My dad has his routine and I have grown up watching that routine,” said Ms. Force. “I prepared myself that it was going to be a long tree and I just tried to play his game and not let it screw with me. He still made me wait but that is OK because we had a car for him.”

Heading into the final round of qualifying, Tim Wilkerson wasn't yet in the field. But a 4.152-second pass at 302.14 mph allowed him to break in and qualify in the No. 14 position with his Levi, Ray and Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang.


"After Q3 when it smoked the tires, we came back and analyzed it," said Wilkerson, who has qualified for every race on the tour every season since 2012. "Going up there for the final session, I told Krista [Wilkerson's wife], we got this. I figured we'd go about a 4.10, but it dropped a hole out there in the middle. I'm a little upset it went that slow, but it had to go, so we slowed it down a whole bunch to be sure.


"I'm happy to be in the show. We made three blunderous runs the first three. Man, nothing went right, but that proves that you can't be distracted when you do this. You have to be thinking about only this. It's been a tough couple of days, but now that we're qualified, we're all excited. Everything will be alright. We have a tough opponent first round, but hopefully he's thinking the same thing."


Wilkerson met Ron Capps in the first round and took the win with a 4.130/303.43 to 4.152/280.43 for Capps. Wilkerson got the second-round win when Jonnie Lindberg’s Mustang broke. He met up with John Force in the semifinals and smoked the tires, allowing Ford to move into the final round.


Del Worsham returned to driving his Funny Car at this event. He defeated Jack Beckman (4.828/228.46 to 4.972/199.94) in the first round, but then smoked the tires right off the line against J.R. Todd.

Cruz Pedregon had a tremendous explosion that shredded his car’s body during Saturday qualifying, but after an almost all-night thrash, his crew had the Toyota Camry ready for Sunday. Pedregon took a first-round win over Robert Hight, 4.254/261.67 to 4.314/233.20, but then lost a cylinder against John Force.

Bob Tasca also went through a few bodies during qualifying at Richmond (OK, Dinwiddie) and it was all over in the first round, losing to J.R. Todd.

No matter how determined Matt Hagan may be, this has been a disappointing season so far. In Virginia he was out in the first round, thanks to Jonnie Lindberg.




Chevrolet posted its 10th consecutive Pro Stock victory this season as Tanner Gray won for the second time by posting a 6.595-second run at 208.81 mph in the Gray Motorsports Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro SS to defeat two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders, whose Camaro ran 6.628 at 208.46 mph.


Gray, the No. 5 qualifier, recorded his seventh win in 34 career races over two seasons. He defeated Drew Skillman, a technical partner of Gray Motorsports, and Enders beat Chris McGaha in the semifinals.


“(Crew chief) Dave (Connelly) and the guys saved me in two rounds today. I only did my job twice -- in the first round and final,” said Gray, who is 4-4 in matchups with Enders. “They gave me a fast race car and I think that made the difference on the day.”

Greg Anderson, the No. 1 qualifier, ran his career record to 92-7 in the first round of eliminations getting past a red-lighting Tommy Lee. Skillman knocked Anderson out of the competition (6.617/209.07 to 6.625/208.84) in the second round.


Anderson and KB Racing teammate, Jason Line, are not having a good season so far. Line lost to Skillman in the first round after his car moved towards the centerline and the back towards the wall.


L.E. Tonglet (far lane) got the PSM win over Andrew Hines. 


L.E. Tonglet earned his first victory of the season in Pro Stock Motorycle, using a 6.841 at 196.76 on his Nitro Fish Racing Suzuki to take down points leader Andrew Hines in the finals, who ran 6.848/196.22.


“Getting this win was huge, especially going against a Harley-Davidson bike, because we know they are always going to be tough to beat,” Tonglet said. “Our bike is just flying and is fun to ride right now.


After qualifying fifth, Tonglet beat John Hall (6.886/195.08 to 6.956/191.87), defending champion Eddie Krawiec (6.871/195.45 to 6.875/194.94) and No. 1 qualifier Hector Arana Jr. (6.840/196.96 to 6.976/196.59).


Hines now has three runner-up appearances for the season as he chases his first win of the year.


Matt Smith was not able to repeat his previous win at Joliet, getting to the semifinals before turning on the red light against Hines. Smith ran 6.874/195.51 to defeat Cory Reed’s 6.982/191.65 and 6.888/194.86 to defeat Jerry Savoie’s 6.927/192.33.


Matt’s wife, Angie Smith, was the one of two women riders to make the field. The other was Kelly Clontz, who lost in the first round to Hector Arana Jr. Angie took the first-round win with a 6.900/193.90 to Steve Johnson’s 6.948/193.52. She was off the line first in the second round, but backed off the throttle just past the 330-foot marker, giving the win to Arana Jr.


Also not qualifying were Angelle Sampey and Karen Stoffer. It was the second event in a row for which neither had qualified. 



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