race reports

NHRA pro classes at Houston

Bo Butner got his first NHRA Pro Stock win and Jeg Coughlin Jr. showed the return to Chevrolet was a good idea.


Leah Pritchett piloted her Papa John's dragster to the Top Fuel victory Sunday at the 30th annual NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway. Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Bo Butner (Pro Stock) were also winners at the fifth event of 24 on the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.


It marks the 68th time Don Schumacher Racing has swept the nitro titles in the same event and fourth time in five Mello Yello races this year.



Leah Pritchett’s win with crew chief Todd Okuhara and assistant Joe Barlam regained the points lead they lost to DSR teammate Tony Schumacher three weeks ago in Las Vegas.


After getting by Scott Palmer (3.748/324.59 to 4.766/152.52), Doug Kalitta (3.783/324.05 to 3.759/326.56), and Antron Brown (3.777/319.45 to 3.815/322.11), Pritchett faced Steve Torrence in the final.


She got a little jump on Torrence at the starting line and the race was determined by 7 feet at over 320 mph when her time of 3.781 seconds at 321.96 mph edged past his 3.787 at 322.11.

"I've never been in a position to really be counting points so early in the season, but I'm definitely enjoying that," Pritchett said of her third win in five events.


After another strong performance during which he posted the quickest 1,000-foot time in the last two qualifying session and in the first three round of eliminations, Steve Torrence dropped a close decision that kept him winless so far in the 2017 season.


After losing the spring Nationals title a year ago by .019 to Doug Kalitta, this year Torrence crossed the line just .003 behind Pritchett, whose husband, Gary, is the clutch tech on Torrence’s Capco Contractors entry.


"We don't talk on race day,” Leah said of her husband. “I don't even make eye contact with him when we're in the staging lanes getting ready to run.”


“This is getting old,” said a disappointed Torrence. “I know races like that are fun for the fans, but they’re hard on us drivers. To get so close to a win here the last two years, to have my guys give me such a good race car and then to come up that short, all you can do is suck it up and get back to work.”

Bob Vandergriff, former team owner for Leah Pritchett, got back into the driver’s seat at Houston. He got the first-round win over Shawn Langdon, but lost in the second to Antron Brown.

VOLUME XIX,  NUMBER 4 - April  2017

Shawn Langdon was back in a TF dragster for the first time this season.

Clay Millican (far lane) defeated Steve Chrisman in the first round and Tony Schumacher (near lane) in the second but then went up in smoke against Torrence in the semifinal. He had Low ET of the meet at 3.722 seconds.



Capps’ NAPA Dodge Powered by Pennzoil team with crew chief Rahn Tobler and assistant Eric Lane won a title for the first time in 13 races going back to Seattle during last year's championship season.


Capps and his NAPA AutoCare Centers crew qualified second with the most consistent car at the track with four qualifying four between 3.884 and 3.951 seconds at speeds ranging from 320.89 to 326.56 mph. They continued the pace until the final round and resulting fire in which he was not injured.


"I didn't know we won because it was on fire and I couldn't see the win light. After I got out of the car on the track, I had my arms up asking fans who won. One of the racers loading up his car gave me a thumbs up.


"I know we're taking this trophy to our crewman and brother Joe Chrisman tonight. Joe had emergency surgery after we got to Houston and he's still in the hospital. He'll be fine, and I'm sure this will make him feel a lot better."


Capps is just two points behind DSR teammate Matt Hagan, who was upset in the first round by DSR teammate Jack Beckman, going into the Four-Wides at zMax Dragway.


Robert Hight raced to the final round Sunday before falling to Ron Capps after his AAA Texas Chevy drifted right and across the centerline as it approached the finish.


“I thought this was the day we were going to get our win and get in the Traxxas Shootout,” Hight said. “The good news is we’re racing in just about six days. We’re back at it again. That’s what you like this time of year, to get going.


“We’ve got a good car. We’re not searching for a combination or anything like that. We’ve got to go put four runs together on Sunday and hold the Wally.”


Hight hadn’t been to a final round since winning in Gainesville, Fla., last year. But a recent crew swap at John Force Racing brought crew chief Jimmy Prock and co-crew chief Chris Cunningham to Hight’s team, and Prock has turned fortunes around for Hight.


On Saturday, Hight’s Funny Car was fast in both qualifying sessions, building his confidence for Sunday. That speed continued into eliminations, as he was quickest in the first round with a pass of 3.870 seconds at 331.77 mph to take out Jim Campbell.


That speed, by the way, set a track record for Funny Car in Houston.


He backed that up with a 3.898-second run at 327.82 mph to beat J.R. Todd in the second round, setting up an all-JFR semifinal against Courtney Force. Hight won that in-house battle with a pass of 3.908 seconds at 324.98 mph, beating Force’s 3.943-second run at 324.28 mph.

Two Toyota Camry’s met in the first round with J.R. Todd (near lane) getting the win with a 3.959/323.58 to Pedregon’s 3.935/322.04. The Reaction Times made the difference: Todd’s .078 to Pedregon’s .115.

Todd Simpson of Ponder, TX, qualified No. 15 in the field, but was up in smoke right off the line against Ron Capps.

Del Worsham and John Force both had problems in the first round and were coasting by half-track. Force got the win, pushing his round-win record to 55-29 against Worsham.



Bob Utner … er, Bo Butner seen here with Jason Line in qualifying, defeated Allen Johnson and Greg Anderson to get to the final. Because of a short field, he got a bye in the second round. Line lost to Vincent Nobile in the first.


James “Bo” Butner secured his first Wally by defeating No. 1 qualifier Jeg Coughlin Jr. in the final of the NHRA SpringNationals.


The racer from Floyds Knobs, Indiana, who has scored 15 victories in the Sportsman ranks, had advanced to the final round of eliminations seven times – including the previous race of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – in 45 races. He is the 65th different winner in the Pro Stock category and the fifth different Chevrolet winner in as many races this season.


“I’ve had the best car all year long. The best of everything. It just went our way today,” said Butner, whose pass of 6.550 seconds at 212.26 mph in the Jim Butner Auto Chevrolet Camaro SS prepared by KB Racing was one-hundredth of a second quicker (about 4 feet) than Coughlin’s Jegs.com Elite Chevrolet Camaro SS.


“We got it off our back. It was the eighth time and I was due. I’ve always, always had a chance to win, so today it happened and maybe they’ll start rolling like snowballs.”


Butner also reset the track speed record to 213.33 mph in the first round of eliminations.

Coughlin, a four-time Pro Stock winner at Royal Purple Raceway and the No. 1 qualifier for the first time since the spring Las Vegas race in 2014, set the track elapsed-time record of 6.499 seconds in the first round. Coughlin made his 101st final-round appearance, and his first final since the 2015 Seattle event.


“We definitely made the right move by switching back to Chevrolet Camaros,” said Coughlin, who claimed his first Pro Stock national victory at the racetrack 19 years ago. “The change in brands had resulted in a gain of 55 horsepower from the NHRA Finals to the NHRA Winternationals, but we lost a year’s worth of development time on the Chevy combination while all the other teams were perfecting their packages. It really feels good to be making solid runs again, and I’m especially happy for the guys on my team who have been working so hard."

Erica Enders, known for her great reaction times, got too fast in her first-round match against husband, Richie Stevens. Both jumped the gun, Enders .009 and Stevens just .003 to take the win. However, she set Top Speed at 213.37 mph in that run.


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Erica Enders, known for her great reaction times, got too fast in her first-round match against husband, Richie Stevens. Both jumped the gun, Enders .009 and Stevens just .003 to take the win. However, she set Top Speed at 213.37 mph in that run.

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