race reports

U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis

Let the Countdown Begin!

Results compiled by Kay Burk

Photos by Ron Lewis and Chris Haverly

J.R. Todd (far lane) took the Funny Car win over Matt Hagan.


J.R. Todd, an Indianapolis native, powered his DHL Toyota Camry Funny Car to victory for the second time in a row Monday, Sept. 3, at the 64th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, the world’s biggest drag race, at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.


Terry McMillen (Top Fuel), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock), and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were also victorious at the 18th event of 24 on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.


With one-and-a-half times points for this special event, this was the final push for racers to make the top 10 and the Countdown to the Championship.




Just three seasons ago, Terry McMillen was ready to walk away from the sport that he loved dearly, after season of struggles and mishaps had shaken his belief that he belonged in the sport.


“I’ve always said persistence out-weighs resistance,” McMillen said. “That day in Charlotte, I had briefly lost faith in that statement. Ultimately it was the fans and Amalie that believed in me that day and picked me up.”


His first-round matchup with Scott Palmer proved to be the little luck they needed to master the right lane. Palmer would shut his car off after the team saw something they didn’t like, giving McMillen a solo run to the quarter-finals.


“Palmer’s circumstance gave us the window we needed, McMillen said. “Rob (Crew Chief, Rob Wendland) learned what we needed to do to slide our hot rod down that lane on that pass.”


It worked for team Amalie. McMillen was able to defeat points leader Steve Torrence in round two (3.979/315.78 to 4.097/269.46), rookie Blake Alexander in the semi-finals (3.961/314.75 to 5.026/144.77) and veteran Doug Kalitta (4.037/300.66 to 4.067/303.57) in the finals.


While McMillen had a good light in the finals, Kalitta would take an advantage that almost proved tough to overcome.


“Doug drilled me on the tree, McMillen said of Kalitta’s .047 light to his own .071. “But I think we had it made up around the 60-foot mark. Rob did a fantastic job of getting us through that final round. I think Doug dropped a hole and we did too. Ours was just a little later than his.”


Qualifying did not yield any clean passes for the new look Mac Tools machine, but Doug Kalitta was still able to earn a solid starting spot with a 3.824-second pass in Friday's evening run.


On raceday, the Mac Tools team was ready. With a tough first round draw of Leah Pritchett, Kalitta moved first and never looked back. Kalitta had a big boomer at the stripe, but he still had enough to score the round win.


In the quarterfinals, Kalitta faced another Don Schumacher Racing machine in Antron Brown. Again, Kalitta's Mac Tools team didn't get to the line pretty, but he did get to the final first in 4.089 seconds, which was easily enough to defeat Brown.


In the semifinals, Kalitta's Mac Tools team were on point. With track temperatures nearing 130 degrees, Kalitta made a clean run, but more important he moved first. His reaction time advantage came into play and gave him the round win over Billy Torrence.


It was Kalitta's third final round appearance in Indianapolis, and first since 2008.


In the final, Kalitta's Mac Tools ride got the jump at the starting line, but McMillen took the lead early. Kalitta nearly tracked him back down, but came up just short in the final.


For the second year in a row, Scott Palmer has earned a coveted spot in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs for his CatSpot Organic Cat Litter Top Fuel dragster team.


Due to oil pressure issues during his warm-up in the pits and as his team tried to ignite his dragster on the starting line, Palmer elected not to run his first-round race against Terry McMillen despite the fact he had a lot of confidence in his machine.


Playing it safe and not making a run with a dodgy oil pressure reading paid dividends in the form of securing Palmer's place in the Countdown. The playoff pressure was actually relieved a few pairs in front of Palmer's race when Richie Crampton lost, eliminating his team from contention.


"Ultimately, we're leaving Indy in the top 10 so we'll have a chance to run for the championship and that was our primary goal for the regular season," Palmer said. "Now we'll reset our goals, along with the points being reset, and we'll do everything we can these last six races to win everything we can.”

Steve Torrence's bid to repeat as Top Fuel champion at the 64th annual U.S. Nationals ended in the second round when his Capco contractors’ dragster lost traction against eventual race winner Terry McMillen. Torrence maintained his No. 1 spot in the points, however.

A second Capco dragster, the one driven intermittently by family patriarch Billy Torrence, survived one round further before bowing out against Doug Kalitta.

Mike Salinas carried a tribute to the late Tom “Mongoose” McEwen on his dragster.




J.R. Todd and the DHL/WIX Filters team won their second straight U.S. Nationals.


Todd was the dominant car throughout the race weekend. He started the weekend with a 3.910 second pass that put him in the position to earn his first career no.1 qualifier. He followed that up with several more solid passes, and led the pack with 12 bonus points. He would earn his first pole for the DHL/WIX Filters team and become the 19th driver in NHRA history to earn no.1 qualifiers in both Top Fuel and Funny Car.


In the first round, Todd drew Jim Campbell. The DHL team, led by Jon Oberhofer and Todd Smith, tuned Todd to a stellar 3.996 second pass, which was the second best pass of the entire round to defeat Campbell.


However, Todd drew the only man who beat him in the second round, Robert Hight. Hight was on the tree, but had issues. Todd did as well, but the DHL/WIX Filters Toyota Camry hit the finish line first moving Todd back to the semifinals.

In the semifinals, Todd faced Tommy Johnson Jr. Todd again moved first, and the tune up was on point once again, as the DHL/WIX Filters machine blazed down the track in 4.045 seconds, which was low of the round.


That took Todd back to the final, this time against Matt Hagan, and Todd would not be denied his second straight U.S. Nationals trophy. He took the lead by the time they passed the Christmas Tree and never looked back with a 4.062/311.70 to Hagan’s 4.141/300.60. Todd became just the sixth driver to score back-to-back wins at Indy and keeps his Indy record in a Funny Car to perfect.

Team owner Connie Kalitta was so happy with J.R.’s win that he was actually smiling.


“We came out really strong this spring, then really fell off in the summer,” Todd said, reflecting on his season so far. “Before this race, we made some pretty big changes going into the Indy test - in some ways going back to the old ways of running the DHL Toyota Camry. It’s really got my confidence up as a driver. I was in a bad mood for about two months because we really weren’t doing so well. I’m really thankful to be able to come out and race for a living. I don’t think I’ve ever been this happy throughout an entire weekend at a national event. From day one, I felt like we could come out here and win.”


Matt Hagan raced the new Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat NHRA Funny Car to its first ever final-round appearance at the U.S. Nationals.


Hagan earned the No. 3 starting spot and the 2016 event winner at Indy began race day by defeating Jonnie Lindberg in a challenging run that saw Hagan deftly manage traction and engine issues to lock down the round win. Matched up against points leader Courtney Force in the quarterfinals, both drivers hazed the tires near halftrack with Hagan once again using his driving skills to pedal his car to the finish line for his 330th round win.

In the semifinals, three-time 2018 race winner Hagan recorded his best run of the day, a 4.129-second elapsed time at 298.60 mph, to knock off Shawn Langdon and advance to his sixth final round of the year and 53rd of his career.


Lacking lane choice in the final against J.R. Todd, Hagan was first off the starting line but Todd soon pulled ahead.



Tanner Gray entered the 64th Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals with two stated objectives: win his first Pro Stock race at Lucas Oil Raceway and secure the No. 1 seed for the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. He did both.


Gray, the No. 1 qualifier in the Gray Manufacturing Technologies Chevrolet Camaro SS entering race day in the regular-season finale, defeated three-time U.S. Nationals winner Jeg Coughlin Jr. on a holeshot in the final round.


“This is so cool to win here, especially at a Chevy race,” said Gray, whose .003-of-a-second reaction time was the difference when he ran 6.641 seconds to Coughlin’s 6.639 and .023 light. “When you can go up there and beat one of the best to come to the class on a holeshot, that definitely means a lot. I am so proud of my guys. They gave me an awesome race car all day and I didn’t really do a good job of driving it till the final round.”



Gray defeated John Gaydosh (6.631/207.94 to 6.717/206.04), Jason Line (red-light) and 2017 U.S. Nationals Pro Stock winner Drew Skillman (6.651/208.42 to 6.658/207.78).


Coughlin beat Alex Laughlin (6.653/206.01 to 6.657/206.01 in the first round and then knocked Greg Anderson out of the points lead with a holeshot 6.645/206.04 to 6.643/207.37.

In the semifinal, No. 3 qualifier and reigning Pro Stock champion Bo Butner’s 6.662/206.20 could not overcome Coughlin’s 6.651 at 206.13 mph. 


"We're very happy," Coughlin said. "We definitely wanted win the U.S. Nationals, especially after getting all this way, but got packaged out, so to speak, by Tanner Gray. He deserved the win today, plain and simple.


"I'm so impressed with this Elite Motorsports team. To go from 11th in the points 10 races ago all the way up to No. 4 against this talented field of drivers speaks volumes about the fight in this team. I'm very proud of the guys and the momentum we've gained."

John Gaydosh 


John Gaydosh was victorious before he even headed to the starting line on race day at the 64th Annual NHRA Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. After 10 years of trying, he finally qualified to compete on race day at The Big Go.


“We finally qualified for Indy. I got that monkey off our back,” Gaydosh said. “We had a good weekend, the car was consistent. Not as fast as I wanted, but we’re a work in progress.”


Gaydosh met Tanner Gray in the first round and ran a respectable 6.717/206.04, but it wasn’t enough for Gray’s 6.631/207.94.


Gaydosh’s next and his final race of 2018, will be the NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pennsylvania on September 13-15.


“We’re not out here running enough to make our car run as fast as it possibly could. That is just the way it is. Hopefully we can be a little faster at Maple Grove and go a few rounds.”



L.E. Tonglet (near lane) beat Eddie Krawiec in the PSM final. 


L.E. Tonglet rode to the Pro Stock Motorcycle win with his 6.864 pass at 197.10 on his Nitro Fish Racing Suzuki to defeat four-time world champion Eddie Krawiec and his Mello Yello Vance & Hines Harley Davidson’s 6.884 pass at 197.02. This is Tonglet’s second career victory at Lucas Oil Raceway, his third win on the season and 19th of his career.


“I try not to think about anything,” Tonglet said. “We just go up there and try our best and whatever happens, happens. I don’t lose sleep over this since this is still a hobby for us. We just come out here to have fun.”


Tonglet took down Ryan Oehler (6.857/196.59 to 7.031/182.00), Chip Ellis (6.897/196.44 to 7.014/192.96) and Steve Johnson (6.876/196.13 to 6.934/193.60).


Krawiec beat Jerry Savoie (6.859/196.24 to 6.915/195.45), teammate Andrew Hines (6.902/195.87 to 6.929/194.58) and Hector Arana Jr. (6.876/196.47 to 6.892/198.70) to get into the finals.





Top Fuel: 1. Steve Torrence, 1,422; 2. Clay Millican, 1,234; 3. Tony Schumacher, 1,195; 4. Leah Pritchett, 1,170; 5. Doug Kalitta, 1,166; 6. Antron Brown, 1,112; 7. Terry McMillen, 959; 8. Brittany Force, 839; 9. Mike Salinas, 768; 10. Scott Palmer, 755.


Funny Car: 1. Courtney Force, 1,457; 2. Matt Hagan, 1,247; 3. Robert Hight, 1,231; 4. Ron Capps, 1,227; 5. J.R. Todd, 1,174; 6. Jack Beckman, 1,161; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., 1,107; 8. Shawn Langdon, 907; 9. John Force, 904; 10. Tim Wilkerson, 831.


Pro Stock: 1. Tanner Gray, 1,432; 2. Greg Anderson, 1,355; 3. Erica Enders, 1,230; 4. Jeg Coughlin, 1,198; 5. Vincent Nobile, 1,135; 6. Deric Kramer, 1,099; 7. Drew Skillman, 1,068; 8. Jason Line, 1,067; 9. Bo Butner, 1,050; 10. Chris McGaha, 1,042.


Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1. Eddie Krawiec, 930; 2. Andrew Hines, 867; 3. LE Tonglet, 815; 4. Hector Arana Jr, 770; 5. Jerry Savoie, 636; 6. Matt Smith, 604; 7. Scotty Pollacheck, 528; 8. Steve Johnson, 443; 9. Angie Smith, 424; 10. (tie) Angelle Sampey, 421; Jim Underdahl, 421.  




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