race reports

NHRA Pros at St. Louis

Hight Wins in Spectacular Fashion

Results compiled by Kay Burk

Photos by Jeff Burk and Ron Lewis

Steve Torrence


Steve Torrence piloted to the Top Fuel victory with his second consecutive win Sunday, Sept. 23, at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals held at Gateway Motorsports Park. Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Tanner Gray (Pro Stock), and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were also winners at the second of six playoff events during the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship.



Steve Torrence and his Capco Contractors Top Fuel dragster remained perfect in the NHRA’s 2018 Countdown to the Championship. That’s two up, two down and four to go. Nevertheless, the talented Texan has not yet been able to create enough separation between himself and rival Clay Millican to really enjoy the ride.


“Those guys have been bad ass all year,” Torrence said of Millican and crew chief David Grubnic. “This is going to be a really hard-fought championship but I couldn’t have a better group to be backing me up than these Capco boys.”


After qualifying No. 1 at 3.675 seconds, Torrence stopped the timers in 3.751, 3.771, 3.772 and 3.779 seconds and for the second straight week narrowly defeated Millican in a one-on-one showdown.  At Gateway, his .043 of a second reaction gave him a .040 lead that he never relinquished.

Clay Millican 


In the first round Millican defeated Shawn Reed, who had to click off the dragster early. Then the Tennessee driver ran 3.803/323.04 to get by Antron Brown’s 3.842 at 323.66 mph and then got the win over Pat Dakin, who also had to click off after dropping a cylinder.


Millican (left) and Torrence had to wait after watching Robert Hight’s explosion happen right before they were to run the Top Fuel final.

Mike Salinas got the win over Terry McMillen at Reading, but the two, seen here in qualifying, did not meet in eliminations at St. Louis. 


After a thrilling win at the U.S. Nationals, the subsequent two events have been disappointing for Terry McMillen. At Reading his AMALIEⓇ Motor Oil XTERMIGATORⓇ lost in the opening round to Mike Salinas and at St. Louis, it was a first-round loss to Blake Alexander.


“It’s just frustrating,” McMillen said. “Our crew works so hard. It just comes down to clutch discs for us. Right now we can’t make two runs with the same tune-up and get the results we want.”

Leah Pritchett drove to the win over Scott Palmer, who suffered a broken throttle cable at the starting line. Pritchett smoked the tires and limped in with a 5.568 at 125.37 mph. She then got the win over Blake Alexander, who was up in smoke at the hit of the throttle. Pritchett met Steve Torrence in the semifinal and here 3.809/322.11 was second to hie 3.772/325.22. 




Robert Hight took the Funny Car win at his sponsor’s AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals, but it was not the way either he or his sponsor would have wanted.


While racing Tim Wilkerson in the final round, Hight crossed the finish line first but soon after his Chevy Camaro suffered an engine explosion blasting the body off the car and made contact with the retaining wall. Hight got the win at 4.036-seconds at 276.29 mph to Wilkerson’s 4.413 at 201.91 and walked away from the wreckage to be transported to a local hospital for further evaluation.

Tuner Jimmy Prock and other crewmembers react to Hight’s explosion after the finish line. 

The track gets cleaned up after Hight’s explosion and then hitting the wall. Notice that the car’s flying body parts took out the right side of the Jumbotron frame. 


Hight started the day in the No. 1 qualifying position. The performance of the AAA Missouri Chevrolet Camaro team continued through race day. He made quick work of Dale Creasy in the first round running 3.938 seconds at 324.75 mph that bettered Creasy’s 4.124.


The win landed him in a second-round matchup with teammate and mentor John Force. It was a close race with Hight getting the upper hand at 4.017 seconds to Force’s 4.043.


Against Tommy Johnson Jr. in the semifinals, Hight and his AAA Missouri team had a stout 3.945-second pass at 323.04 mph to oust Johnson Jr. and his 4.008 at 320.13 sending Hight to his sixth final round of the season and 70th of his career.

Tim Wilkerson got the second-round win ove4r Courtney Froce. 


For the second event in a row and in the second of six Countdown to the Championship playoff events, Wilkerson reached the final round with an outstanding raceday at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals.


"We had a couple of lucky rounds today, but man, our car was pretty good in qualifying," said Wilkerson, who started from the No. 6 position and kicked off eliminations with a first-round victory over Matt Hagan in a battle of will as the two pushed towards the finish line. Wilk won it with a 4.348-second pass at 251.67 mph to his opponent's 4.585/201.19.


"This was the hottest racetrack we've had all weekend, and that was a big challenge," explained the driver who secured his berth in the top 10 in the final race of the regular season but came alive when the Countdown to the Championship began.


After a 4.000/315.19 win over Courtney Force's 4.051/310.70 in the second round, Wilkerson and J.R. Todd went to war for the finish line stripe in the semifinals, and their dramatic match was ensconced in tire smoke from a wicked pedalfest. Wilk advanced with a bunch of luck and a 5.186 at 175.23 mph to 6.100/152.28.


"We both missed it there, bad," said Wilkerson, who raced Todd just last weekend in the Reading final round. "J.R. was complimentary to me down there. I said, 'That was a wild one; we both smoked the hoops as soon as we hit the gas.' He was like, 'Yeah, you just did a better job than me, that's all there was to it.' I thought it was pretty cool of him to say that. Sometimes it's really hard to get your brain to let off the gas pedal when you're smoking the tires that early. You just react and do the best you can. We just got lucky – ours stuck, and his didn't."

J.R. Todd 


Coming off back-to-back wins, J.R. Todd and the DHL/WIX Filters team reached the semifinals in St. Louis, seeing their streak of 10 consecutive round wins come to an end.


Todd continued his remarkably consistent streak through qualifying, as he entered eliminations seventh in the qualifying order after four strong passes: all of which were under the four-second mark. He was able to pick up one bonus point with the third-best run in the first round of qualifying.


In the first round of eliminations, Todd lined up against teammate Shawn Langdon. The DHL team, led by Jon Oberhofer and Todd Smith, powered Todd to a 3.954-second pass, which was the fifth-best pass of the round to give him the victory against a strong run from Langdon.


In the second round, Todd lined up with No. 15 qualifier Cruz Pedregon who had upset Ron Capps in the first round. Although Todd was slower than Pedregon, Todd's 4.064 run was enough to take out his opponent due to a red-light violation.


In the semis, Todd matched up with Tim Wilkerson, who he defeated in the finals last week in Reading, PA. The DHL/WIX Filters team ran into almost instant smoke, and his 6.100 at 152.28 was not enough to keep his winning streak alive.




Gray grabbed his sixth victory of the season and 11th of his career in his Valvoline/Gray Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro after going 6.567 at 211.06 in the final round to defeat Drew Skillman’s 11.409 at 78.68. Gray, who knocked off Chris McGaha, Erica Enders and Vincent Nobile to extend his points lead over the category.


“During qualifying we didn’t run as well as we thought we should have,” Gray said. “We made nice runs, but we never got aggressive enough. It was cool to see everyone come in with their head on straight and fight back to get a win. I felt like all of us did a really good job of just going round-by-round.”

Skillman’s 6.581/211.63 took the semifinal win over Coughlin’s 6.778/207.62. 


Skillman was in his second consecutive final round and was seeking his first victory of the 2018 season. He didn't get the victory but did climb to third in points after beating Kenny Delco (6.545/211.89 to 6.619/209.46), defending world champion Bo Butner (6.559/211.66 to a tire-shaking 13.412/63.70), and No. 1 qualifier Jeg Coughlin Jr. on Sunday.

Vincent Nobile couldn’t quite follow up his Reading win at St. Louis. He got past Fernando Cuadra in the first round and Jason Line in the next, but met Gray in the semifinal where his 6.597/209.85 couldn’t get past Gray’s 6.579/210.54. 



(Ron Lewis photo)


Matt Smith earned his second victory of 2018 and 20th of his career with a holeshot win of 6.877 at 198.44 to LE Tonglet’s 6.876 at 196.10. Smith took the points lead after his third win at the track on his Elite Motorsports DENSO Auto Parts EBR.


He picked up wins against Scotty Pollacheck (6.889/197.31 to 6.955/193.07), Joey Gladstone (6.869/197.45 to 6.940/172.80) and No. 1 qualifier Chip Ellis (6.879/198.03 to 6.901/194.63) en route to the finals.


“We hurt our motor on Friday night,” Smith stated. “Angie (his wife) and I stayed up all night last night rebuilding it. The Harley’s got three bikes out here trying to whoop up on us but we’re going to try and do our best to stay focused and do our job. As long as we don’t have any part failures we will be fine.”


Tonglet’s path to his 27th career final round included victories against Jim Underdahl 6.838/195.90 to6.953/193.82), Angie Smith (6.864/195.34 to 13.648/57.27) and Jerry Savoie (6.890/195.65 to 6.924/194.86).



Top Fuel: 1. Steve Torrence, 2,346; 2. Clay Millican, 2,276; 3. Tony Schumacher, 2,225; 4. Leah Pritchett, 2,192; 5. Antron Brown, 2,169; 6. Doug Kalitta, 2,135; 7. Mike Salinas, 2,119; 8. Terry McMillen, 2,093; 9. (tie) Brittany Force, 2,085; Scott Palmer, 2,085.


Funny Car: 1. Robert Hight, 2,270; 2. J.R. Todd, 2,240; 3. Courtney Force, 2,200; 4. Tim Wilkerson, 2,196; 5. Ron Capps, 2,182; 6. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,166; 7. Matt Hagan, 2,144; 8. John Force, 2,116; 9. Jack Beckman, 2,113; 10. Shawn Langdon, 2,086.


Pro Stock: 1. Tanner Gray, 2,296; 2. Vincent Nobile, 2,244; 3. Drew Skillman, 2,222; 4. Jeg Coughlin, 2,215; 5. Greg Anderson, 2,206; 6. Erica Enders, 2,192; 7. Jason Line, 2,133; 8. Bo Butner, 2,120; 9. Deric Kramer, 2,104; 10. Chris McGaha, 2,064.


Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1. Matt Smith, 2,263; 2. LE Tonglet, 2,242; 3. Eddie Krawiec, 2,222; 4. Hector Arana Jr, 2,214; 5. Andrew Hines, 2,201; 6. Jerry Savoie, 2,154; 7. Angie Smith, 2,115; 8. Steve Johnson, 2,108; 9. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,094; 10. Angelle Sampey, 2,085.  




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