race reports

NHRA at Reading, PA

The Countdown Begins

Results compiled by Kay Burk

Photos by Ron Lewis

J.R. Todd moved into the Funny Car points lead with his second straight victory of 2018 on Sunday, Sept. 16, at the 34th Dodge NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway.


For the rest of the classes, it was new winners as none of the U.S. Nationals winners could repeat this week. Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Vincent Nobile (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were also winners at the first of six playoff events during the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship.



With the resetting of points going into the Countdown, Steve Torrence was just 20 points ahead going into the Maple Grove race. It was reduced to just 10 points after a near perfect qualifying performance by Clay Millican. But Torrence held on when he was matched with Millican in the semifinal and used a holeshot (.068 to .086) to take the win with .001 margin at the finish line.

There were no hard feelings as Torrence (right) and Millican shake hands.


The final round against Tony Schumacher was not as exciting as Torrence turned in a 3.819/325.45 to Schumacher’s 4.196/234.82.


Torrence had won against Bill Litton (3.783/325.61 to 6.310/104.59) and Mike Salinas (3.812/326.32 to 3.850/315.27) in the first two rounds.

Tony Schumacher advanced to his fifth final round of the season and 152nd of his career, finishing runner-up in his Mopar-powered U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster.

Schumacher handled Dan Mercier in round one, then knocked out Scott Palmer (near lane) in a close quarterfinals battle, using a 3.827-second elapsed time at 323.19 mph to beat Palmer’s 3.833/324.59 to the finish stripe.


In the semifinals, “The Sarge” left first with a .047 reaction time and battled through dropped cylinders to post a winning 3.939/292.96 against Antron Brown, who smoked the tires early.

Something just isn’t right with Antron Brown’s dragster.

McMillen took the U.S. Nationals win, but the INSTGATOR lost his bite at Reading, losing to Mike Salinas in the first round with a 3.784/325.85 to a 3.736/331.04 for Salinas.


Schumacher’s eighth career final round at Maple Grove Raceway featured a marquee matchup with points leader Steve Torrence, but the eight-time Top Fuel champion lit up the tires early and watched as Torrence pulled away for the event win.

Dan Mercier from Ontario, Canada, qualified at the No. 15 spot.

The Angry Bee stung the Worm in the first round of Top Fuel as Leah Pritchett driving the “Angry Bee” dragster ran 3.786/323.50 to get the win over Audrey Worm’s 4.0004/265.01, Worm’s career quickest pass.

Several cars had orange and green header flames, including Leah Pritchett’s.

In the second round against Antron Brown, Pritchett’s engine let go in a big fireball. The oil-down penalty (her third of the season) cost the team $4,000.

Clay Millican’s team was excited even if they did finish runner-up.




J.R. Todd and the DHL/WIX Filters team decided that the accolades wouldn't stop with back-to-back Indianapolis victories, as they won their second consecutive event of the season and secured the 100th career victory for Kalitta Motorsports in the process.


In the first round of eliminations, Todd lined up against Bob Tasca. The DHL team, led by Jon Oberhofer and Todd Smith, tuned Todd to a 3.982-second pass, which was the fourth-best pass of the entire round to give him the victory against Tasca's red light.

In the second round, Todd lined up with No. 16 qualifier Mike Smith who had upset the top qualifier in the class, Courtney Force, in round one. Although Smith was quicker on the tree, Todd's 3.996 run turned out to be too much as the DHL team took the round win and head to the semifinals.

In the semis, Todd matched up with Ron Capps, and this time was able to beat his opponent off the line. The DHL/WIX Filters team powered down the track to a run of 3.975 seconds, which was best of the round and earned the victory against Capps.


That brought Todd back to his second consecutive final and the fourth of the season, as he was slated to face-off against Tim Wilkerson, and Todd was again the stronger of the pair as he brought home his second straight event win and fourth of the season. Todd was first off the tree and held the lead for the entirety of the race. Todd improved to 6-0 in final rounds in his Funny Car career as he took over the points lead with five races remaining on the 2018 schedule.


Tim Wilkerson's Levi, Ray and Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang nitro Funny Car is coming around just in time. At the Dodge NHRA Nationals Wilkerson got the win and moved up in the Funny Car standings to No. 6.


Wilkerson showed he had a hot rod immediately at Maple Grove and blasted to the No. 2 spot in the first qualifying session. He continued to flex Team LRS muscle throughout qualifying, and despite a total change in weather conditions, he showed up on Sunday with more power to strike fear in the hearts of his competitors.


"We've had a good car the last few races," said Wilkerson. "When you have a good car, that kind of karma happens to you."


In the first round of eliminations, Wilkerson recorded a 4.008-second pass at 313.95 mph to send Terry Haddock home on a 5.726/129.74.

For round two and without lane choice, Wilk managed a cool 4.005 at 321.73 to put John Force on the trailer with a 4.093/317.49.


Still charging, Ford campaigner Wilkerson got the nod in the semifinals when Robert Hight fouled out by .022-second, and it was a lucky break as Wilk clocked a 4.046 at 314.09 to Hight's 3.982/323.12.

Hight’s Funny Car carried some good advice from AAA.


Vincent Nobile grabbed his third victory of the season and 13th in his career in his Mountain View Tire Chevrolet Camaro after going 6.586 at 210.01 in the final round to defeat Drew Skillman’s 6.580 at 211.53. Nobile knocked off Matt Hartford (6.571/209.69 to 6.590/209.88), Erica Enders (6.594/209.92 to 6.603/209.72) and Greg Anderson (6.594/209.10 to 6.614/208.81) to reach his 25th career final round.


“All in all, what a great way to start the Countdown,” Nobile said. “If you really look at it, every single team out here can win the race. It’s just a matter of who has their stuff together the best that weekend. You just have to do the best you can. I think we have a pretty good racecar and as long as we can be in the top six in qualifying, I think we can get the job done.”

Skillman was seeking his first victory of the 2018 season, but did climb to fifth in points after beating Fernando Cuadra (6.568/210.64 to 6.715/205.91), defending world champion and event winner Bo Butner (6.590/210.50 to 6.573/209.95), and points leader Tanner Gray (6.573/211.06 to 6.607/208.94) on Sunday. Gray maintained his points lead and currently holds an 18-point advantage over Nobile.



In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Hector Arana Jr. earned his second victory of 2018 and 13th of his career with a run of 6.842 at 197.74 on his Lucas Oil Racing TV EBR in his final-round matchup against No. 1 qualifier Matt Smith, who slowed to a 7.306 at 145.88. Arana Jr. jumped to second in points after his second career win at the track and trails Eddie Krawiec by just three points.


Arana Jr. picked up wins against Ron Tornow (6.905/195.93 to 7.001/191.81), Joey Gladstone (6.885/197.19 to 6.949/192.22) and points leader Krawiec (6.880/196.85 to 6.905/195.42) en route to the final.


“What matter are the wins in the Countdown and that’s what we’re working on,” said Arana Jr., who earned his second win at the facility. “We’re working on consistency and we’ve been working on that all year. We’ve got a strong championship contender with this bike and I can’t thank my team enough. They work super, super hard. We’re definitely working really hard for a championship.”

Smith’s path to his 47th career final round included victories against John Hall6.842/198.88 to 6.988/191.10), Steve Johnson (6.860/198.61 to 6.887/193.74) and LE Tonglet (6.814/197.39 to red light), as he improved to third in the points standings.

The Pennsylvania attracted a large crowd.


POINTS with five events to go in the Countdown


Top Fuel: 1. Steve Torrence, 2,219; 2. (tie) Clay Millican, 2,169; Tony Schumacher, 2,169; 4. Leah Pritchett, 2,118; 5. Antron Brown, 2,116; 6. Doug Kalitta, 2,103; 7. Mike Salinas, 2,067; 8. Terry McMillen, 2,062; 9. Scott Palmer, 2,053; 10. Brittany Force, 2,052.


Funny Car: 1. J.R. Todd, 2,166; 2. Robert Hight, 2,143; 3. Courtney Force, 2,141; 4. Ron Capps, 2,137; 5.

Matt Hagan, 2,112; 6. Tim Wilkerson, 2,101; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,090; 8. Jack Beckman, 2,080; 9. John Force, 2,064; 10. Shawn Langdon, 2,054.


Pro Stock: 1. Tanner Gray, 2,183; 2. Vincent Nobile, 2,165; 3. Greg Anderson, 2,153; 4. Erica Enders, 2,131; 5. Drew Skillman, 2,128; 6. Jeg Coughlin, 2,127; 7. Jason Line, 2,073; 8. Deric Kramer, 2,072; 9. Bo Butner, 2,064; 10. Chris McGaha, 2,032.


Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1. Eddie Krawiec, 2,184; 2. Hector Arana Jr, 2,181; 3. Matt Smith, 2,147; 4. LE Tonglet, 2,144; 5. Andrew Hines, 2,137; 6. Jerry Savoie, 2,082; 7. Steve Johnson, 2,073; 8. (tie) Scotty Pollacheck, 2,062; Angie Smith, 2,062; 10. Angelle Sampey, 2,033. 



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