race reports

NHRA Pros at Dallas

Torrence Gets First Hometown Win, Hight Returns Triumphant

Results compiled by Kay Burk

Photos by Ron Lewis

Rain cut short qualifying on Friday, but the weekend was hot and beautiful and the fans showed up even though there was a Texas-Oklahoma college football game on Saturday. (Texas Longhorns beat Oklahoma Sooners 48-45.)


Texas native Steve Torrence piloted his dragster to the Top Fuel winners circle Sunday afternoon, Oct. 7, to secure his first career victory at his hometown race, the AAA Texas NHRA Nationals at Texas Motorplex.


Robert Hight (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock), and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were also winners at the third of six playoff events during the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship.



Just short of twelve months after slamming his Capco Contractors Top Fuel dragster into the guardwall at the Texas Motorplex at more than 320 miles per hour, in essence destroying his car and his chances of winning NHRA Championship, Steve Torrence finally won on his home track to the delight of friends, family and a partisan crowd.


The 35-year-old Kilgore resident beat close friend and fellow Top Fuel independent Terry McMillen in the final round of the 33rd annual AAA Texas Fall Nationals and, in so doing, opened up a 103-point lead halfway through the Countdown to the Championship.


It was the third straight win for Torrence but it was his first at a Texas track since he turned pro in 2006.


“That’s really taken the pressure off. I had fun during the regular season, but now it’s ‘Katy, bar the door.’ We’re here to take care of unfinished business. We felt like we got robbed last year (losing the championship to Brittany Force on the final day of the season) and we’re doing everything we possible van to not let that happen (again). At the end of the day, we’re just going to continue to try to do the best job that we can and let the good Lord handle the rest.”


Torrence started his day against Bill Litton who had a huge fireball at the hit of the throttle and was charged $2,000 for oiling the track. Torrence next defeated Blake Alexander, who started to haze the tires about half track and clicked off the engine.


Semifinal opponent Tony Schumacher also went up in smoke, moving Torrence into the final against Terry McMillen, where Torrence’s 3.786 at 325.92 mph was better than McMillen’s 3.826/321.04.


“The best thing about all of this is there were two independent cars in the final today,” Torrence said. “(and) there were two independent cars in the last final (two weeks ago at St. Louis, Mo.). These big multi-car teams aren’t the powerhouse that they once were and that gives hope to other people.


“Some people don’t like the track prep,” Torrence said of NHRA’s controversial decision this year to reduce the amount of attention paid to traction enhancement. “I don’t really have an opinion one way or the other, but I think it’s leveled the playing field quite a bit.”

Terry McMillen (near lane) ended Clay Millican’s hopes of making it to the final round and racking up more championship points.


This weekend was strong for Terry McMillen and his AMALIE® Motor Oil Extermigator team. He was fifth fastest in two of the qualifying sessions and picked up an additional point with a solid third best of session in his fourth qualifying attempt with a 3.777-second pass.


McMillen made low 3.80 passes all day Sunday, eliminating Mike Salinas, Brittany Force and Clay Millican before facing points leader Steve Torrence in the final round. McMillen took a 0.021 second starting line advantage and led to the 330-foot cone before Torrence pulled ahead for a 0.0193-second margin of victory. McMillen moved up to sixth in the Countdown points.


“I’m so proud of this team,” McMillen said. “They’ve worked so hard to get us back to the consistent car we’ve had most of the year. Today that hard work paid off on the race track”.


Millican’s crew chief, David Grubnic, checks his notes on the set-up. Looks like there is still some tweaking to do.



Reigning Funny Car world champion Robert Hight raced to his 45th career victory, fourth of the season and fourth at the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals. The victory comes after a fiery win in St. Louis that sent Hight to the hospital with a broken collarbone, on which he had surgery nine days before qualifying at the Texas Motorplex.


With a titanium plate keeping his collarbone together and a safety apparatus to keep the shoulder restraints off his collarbone, the Funny Car points leader entered race day as the No. 6 qualifier facing Jim Campbell in the first round. Hight ran quickest of the session with his 3.942-second pass at 320.05 mph.


Hight defeated Tim Wilkerson to set up the final with second-place J.R. Todd. Hight’s 3.955 at 325.69 got the win over Todd’s 3.984 at 319.52.


“That was one of the biggest rounds I have ever raced right there. J.R. Todd is number two in the points and he was 30 behind me going into the final round. Had I lost I would only be ten points ahead which isn’t much. Now, since we won, we have a 50-point lead which is a 40 point swing. I can’t wait to get to the track next week. I am really not sore. I know I have a lot of adrenaline right now. This is an amazing feeling,” Hight said.


“It is always a big team effort. This isn’t just about me. We all respect each other. I respect how hard my team worked. They didn’t get a weekend off after St. Louis. We had to build everything. That AAA Camaro was totally ruined after the crash in St. Louis. I was resting and following the doctor’s orders. We all just respect each other and we all know we are working as hard as we can.”


J.R. Todd continued his incredibly consistent racing with three out of four qualifying runs in the 3.9-second range. He ended up fourth in qualifying and used a 3.982 at 321.35 to take down John Hale driving Del Worsham’s car in the first round of eliminations.


In the quarterfinals, Todd lined up against Jack Beckman. The DHL team, led by Jon Oberhofer and Todd Smith, powered Todd to a 3.991-second pass, which was the fourth-best pass of the round to give him the victory against Beckman.

Todd lined up with No. 1 qualifier Tommy Johnson Jr. in the semifinals and used a .033 reaction time to defeat the DSR driver with a 3.952 at 320.89.

Bob Tasca was put out of the competition in the semifinals by Robert Hight who was, perhaps, exacting a bit of revenge for Tasca getting the second-round win over team owner John Force. Tasca’s holeshot (.007 to .039) 4.021 at 304.39 got the better of Force’s 4.000/325.77. Tasca defeated Matt Hagan 3.998/319.37 to 4.058/317.12 in the first round.

Tim Wilkerson and Robert Hight got a do-over of their St. Louis final in the second round at Dallas. Hight again won, but in much less spectacular fashion, defeating Wilk 3.954/321.12 to 3.990/319.60.



Tanner Gray grabbed his second consecutive victory during the Countdown to the Championship with his pass of 6.622 at 207.62 in his Valvoline/Gray Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro to take down No. 1 qualifier, Jeg Coughlin Jr. (6.636/207.82) in the final round.


Gray knocked off Deric Kramer (6.626/207.85 to 6.627/207.66), Greg Anderson (holeshot 6.636/207.72 to 6.636/208.10), and Matt Hartford (red light) to secure his seventh Wally of the season, 12th of his career and continue to extend his point’s lead over the category.


“We’ve been struggling with qualifying it seems like,” Gray stated. “Really, for whatever reason, we’ve been able to pull it out on Sunday. Some of it being luck while others is just making good runs and beating the other guy in the lane. It’s awesome to have the group of guys that I have around me.”


Five-time Pro Stock champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. continued his memorable playoff run Sunday with a runner-up finish. In three Countdown to the Championship events, Coughlin has now finished, in order, in the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals.


"I like the way we're trending because the only thing left to do is win, so I hope that's coming next weekend," Coughlin said.


Race day started with a win over final qualifier Val Smeland with Coughlin cruising to a 6.624 at 207.59 mph, well ahead of Smeland's 6.754 at 205.57 mph. He then got a free pass against Drew Skillman, who fouled out at the starting line.


Against Vincent Nobile, who uses Elite Performance engines, Coughlin knew exactly what to expect but a .016-second head start gave him the cushion he needed and he was able to inch away and win with a 6.619 at 208.17 mph ahead of Nobile's 6.634 at 207.15 mph.


"We made a real nice run down that right lane there," Coughlin said. "Rick and Rickie (Jones, crew chiefs) put a great car underneath me. It felt great to beat Vincent because he's been running so well. Plus, (Tanner) struggled right in front of us that round (with a coasting 9.699 against a red-lighting opponent), which gave us lane choice in the final but we knew we couldn't take them lightly in the final and we were right."



In Pro Stock Motorcycle, L.E. Tonglet (far lane) earned his fourth victory of 2018 and 20th of his career with his run of 6.892 at 194.80 to team owner Jerry Savoie’s 6.907 at 193.88. Tonglet took the points lead after his second win at the track on his Nitro Fish Racing Suzuki.


He picked up round wins against Andrew Hines (6.896/195.36 to 7.138/193.35), Angelle Sampey (6.903/195.39 to 6.968/193.49), and defending world champion Eddie Krawiec (6.886/194.86 to 6.945/194.97) en route to the finals.


“It was just a lot of fun,” Tonglet said. “It was fun in the pit while we were trying to get the bikes cooled off (after semi-finals). Once we came up to the start line though I didn’t even look at him and he didn’t look at me. It was just all business. We’re leading the points now though and we’re not going to look back.”

Matt Smith, who had taken the event win at St. Louis and the points lead, lost to Karen Stoffer in the first round at Dallas. Smith’s comatose .101 Reaction Time was just too much to overcome even though his red bike ran 6.960/195.14 to catch up. With a .002 RT, Stoffer’s 7.045/189.31 was good enough for the win.


POINTS with three events to go

Top Fuel: 1. Steve Torrence, 2,468; 2. Clay Millican, 2,365; 3. Tony Schumacher, 2,303; 4. Leah Pritchett, 2,244; 5. Antron Brown, 2,221; 6. Terry McMillen, 2,189; 7. Doug Kalitta, 2,169; 8. Mike Salinas, 2,150; 9. Brittany Force, 2,140; 10. Scott Palmer, 2,117.


Funny Car: 1. Robert Hight, 2,387; 2. J.R. Todd, 2,337; 3. Tim Wilkerson, 2,254; 4. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,251; 5. Courtney Force, 2,232; 6. Ron Capps, 2,215; 7. Matt Hagan, 2,175; 8. Jack Beckman, 2,172; 9. John Force, 2,168; 10. Shawn Langdon, 2,120.


Pro Stock: 1. Tanner Gray, 2,409; 2. Vincent Nobile, 2,320; 3. Jeg Coughlin, 2,319; 4. Drew Skillman, 2,275; 5. Greg Anderson, 2,266; 6. Erica Enders, 2,251; 7. Jason Line, 2,175; 8. Bo Butner, 2,154; 9. Deric Kramer, 2,136; 10. Chris McGaha, 2,096.


Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1. LE Tonglet, 2,356; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 2,309; 3. Matt Smith, 2,308; 4. Hector Arana Jr, 2,253; 5. Jerry Savoie, 2,247; 6. Andrew Hines, 2,233; 7. Steve Johnson, 2,183; 8. Angie Smith, 2,168; 9. Angelle Sampey, 2,143; 10. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,125.


Celebrating October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, several teams added pink to their color schemes.



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