race reports

NHRA pros at Sonoma, CA

Rookie Alexander Gets Second Win

Results compiled by Kay Burk

Photos by Stephen Justice

California native Blake Alexander brought home the second Top Fuel victory of his career in front of a sellout crowd at the 31st annual Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday, July 29.


Robert Hight (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were also winners at the 15th of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.




Blake Alexander powered to the winner’s circle with a run of 4.004 seconds at 287.41 mph in his Pronto Auto Service Center dragster to take down the winningest driver in Top Fuel history, Tony Schumacher, in the finals. Despite having competed at only six events on the season, Alexander now has three final round appearances as he is now one of four Top Fuel competitors with multiple wins on the year.


“We may be a part-time team, but we come out to the track trying to win every race, and so far this year we have had a lot of success with that,” Alexander said. “My life has changed this year with how well we have been running, and the opportunity that Bob [Vandergriff] has given me to drive his racecar has been paramount in my career to take me to higher levels.”


Alexander took down Mike Salinas (red light), three-time world champion Antron Brown (3.791/330.23 to 3.822/317.72) and Scott Palmer (3.878/313.15 to 7.634/106.52) as he continues to make a bid to qualify for the Countdown to the Championship.

Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher soldiered through a painful pinched nerve in his shoulder in driving his U.S. Army Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) to his 151st career Top Fuel final round Sunday, coming up just short against remarkable rookie driver Blake Alexander.


From his No. 4 position on Sunday’s elimination ladder, Schumacher beat Shawn Reed, defending series champion Brittany Force and longtime rival Doug Kalitta on his way to his fourth final round of the season. After laying down the best two Top Fuel runs during Saturday qualifying, Schumacher and the Army team felt confident they had the car to beat, and opened the day with a stout run of 3.743 seconds at 330.88 mph in beating Reed, who smoked his tires well down track. Schumacher then had to pedal his way past a tire-smoking Force in the second round, illuminating the win light in 4.375 seconds at 192.71 mph while Force crossed the finish line in 4.985 seconds at 144.77 mph.


In his semifinal matchup against Kalitta – their 90th career meeting – Schumacher prevailed for the 51st time despite dropping a cylinder, getting down the track in 3.836 seconds at 317.42 mph to Kalitta’s 3.837 seconds at 274.44 mph.


“It was a good points day,” Schumacher said. “You know, I’ve had a pinched nerve in my shoulder. I can’t even move my right arm. To get to the final and cowboy through it all, I’m glad it’s done. I’m twitching everywhere. My right side’s in agony, I’ve had people working on it all day. Need to get that taken care of before next weekend at Seattle.


“Mike did a good job, Phil did a good job, the Army car was good,” Schumacher said of his team. “That last run, we had a hole out the run before and we made some changes, so it might have picked up something that wasn’t right. It happened late, right around 330-feet, which is kind of a long way out there. I smoke my tires, then he smoked his tires, but he had the momentum and that was it. Again, it was a good day. We made up points on the leader and two positions. You know, I can say that nobody else has any business writing any speeches, yet, because this team has proven time and again that we know how to figure it out by the time it matters. We ran so well yesterday that we felt like nobody was going to beat us today. We got a few lucky breaks, which we haven’t really had, and when you start running well and getting breaks, that’s how you win championships.”


Schumacher was also one of four Top Fuel competitors to join Torrence by clinching a position in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs, as he, Clay Millican, Doug Kalitta and Leah Pritchett fill out the first half of the 10 available Top Fuel spots in NHRA’s six-race postseason championship clash.


Schumacher’s third runner-up finish of the season helped vault him into second in the points standings as he continues to close the gap on points leader Steve Torrence, who suffered a rare red-light start in the first round at Sonoma.

Clay Millican lead the qualifying



Robert Hight and the Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS team raced their way to victory Sunday. Hight, who only qualified 11th, had to face a slew of veteran racers on his way to the second win of the season, 43rd of his career and second at Sonoma Raceway.


In the first round, Hight defeated Tim Wilkerson with a 3.974-second pass at 322.65 mph to Wilkerson’s 4.010 at 321.96. When the second round began, it was the warmest part of the day, slowing the hot rods slightly. The Auto Club team adjusted well to run 4.010 seconds at 317.19 mph against Bob Tasca III who had trouble early crossing the line at 12.467 seconds. The win over Tasca set Hight up to run against rival Tommy Johnson Jr. in the semifinals where Hight had the quickest run of the day (and needed it), defeating Johnson Jr.’s 3.990-second pass at 323.81 mph with a 3.956 at 322.04.


In the final, the reigning world champion faced a familiar foe of John Force Racing, Ron Capps, the 2016 world champion. Hight had the better car with a 3.984-second pass at 319.75 mph that out did Capps’ 4.077 pass at 296.11 mph despite Capps having the better reaction time. Hight is now 34-31 against Capps including being 6-2 over him in final round meetings. Hight has faced Capps more often than any other driver in his career, including his boss John Force who he has faced 44 times.


“As the day goes on, my confidence gets better and better — especially the way our car was running. But, I will be honest, I had my worst light of the day in the final against Capps. If he would have just made a good run, he probably would have got us because I didn’t have a great light,” said Hight, who moves into third in the points standings with the win. “That bothers me because you have to have good lights all day and you have to step it up in the finals. You have to dig deep, and have your A-game, and I didn’t. Luckily, we got the win, but next final, I am not going to let that happen. I am going to step it up, and I am going to be on my game.”

After defeating first round opponent Richard Townsend, Ron Capps faced teammate Matt Hagan in round two. Against Hagan, Capps moved first and powered down the track in 3.969-seconds, earning the second-winningest driver in Funny Car history his 700th professional round win.


Capps then lined up against John Force in the semifinals for their 96th career matchup. Capps was able to avenge his final round loss to Force from one week prior by blasting down the track in 4.000-seconds, defeating Force’s 4.081-second run. The four-time Sonoma winner faced Robert Hight in the finals with the starting line advantage and led until the eighth mile when he dropped a cylinder and Hight was able to power to the win.


Capps now has two runner-ups in his three final rounds on the year, as he and teammate Matt Hagan each joined Courtney Force by locking in their spot in the 2018 Countdown.


Six-time NHRA champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. had a big Sunday at Sonoma Raceway, winning his third Pro Stock race of the season, moving into the top five of the Mello Yello championship points, and reaching the 80-win mark for his career.


Coughlin used his JEGS.com/ElitePerformance Chevrolet Camaro to beat Fernando Cuadra, Elite teammate Alex Laughlin, points leader Greg Anderson and Deric Kramer to match previous Pro Stock wins this year in Chicago and Bristol, Tenn. This was also Coughlin's third win in the wine country, having secured titles here in 2003 and 2010.


The first two rounds were relatively easy for Coughlin, as he beat Cuadra with a 6.537 at 211.96 mph to Cuadra's 6.582 at 208.97 mph and Laughlin with a 6.534 at 211.43 mph to Laughlin's 6.563 at 210.28 mph.


Then things got serious with longtime rival Anderson in the other lane. In the history of the class, the two drivers have met more than any other pairing, with Anderson holding a 53-41 lifetime record. But Coughlin got one back Sunday, chasing down and passing Anderson to win by a scant .007 seconds, or about half a foot. Coughlin's 6.548 at 211.13 mph just enough to beat Anderson's 6.554 at 212.43 mph.

Coughlin's duplicated his margin of victory over Anderson in the final round with his 6.532 at 212.16 mph besting Kramer's 6.534 at 210.54 mph. Kramer uses motors from Anderson's KB Racing camp.


Despite falling in the semifinals, Anderson became the first driver in the Pro Stock class to clinch a spot in the Countdown.



LE Tonglet brought home the win in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class after a 6.771 at 198.52 on his Nitro Fish Racing Suzuki to take down points leader Andrew Hines in the final round. The 2010 world champion notched his third consecutive victory at Sonoma Raceway as he now has two wins on the season.


“We got lucky in the first round because I had a terrible light, but once we got that round win we just kept rolling and turning on win lights,” Tonglet said. “We came off the trailer going fast this weekend and that kept going with each round, so that made today a great day.”


Tonglet took down Cory Reed (6.806/197.48 to 6.914/196.73), Joey Gladstone (6.803/198.32 to 6.853/194.72) and No. 1 qualifier Eddie Krawiec (6.796/198.09 to 6.769/198.93) en route to the victory.

Hines now has four runner-up finishes on the season and the current points leader will look for his first win in 2018 when Pro Stock Motorcycle returns to the circuit in Brainerd.


Five competitors in Pro Stock Motorcycle have now clinched a spot in the Countdown, as Hines, Krawiec, Tonglet, Hector Arana Jr. and Jerry Savoie have locked in their postseason berths.  



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