race reports

NHRA pros at Phoenix, Arizona

Back in the Winner’s Circle

Results compiled by Kay Burk

Photos by Ron Lewis

The rain clouds seem to blend in with the tire smoke from Jason Line’s silver car. But look, there’s blue sky peeking through!


Funny Car veteran Tommy Johnson Jr. added a trophy to his collection at the 36th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in front of a sold-out crowd on Sunday, Feb. 23. Steve Torrence (Top Fuel) and Erica Enders (Pro Stock) also took home wins at the second of 24 events on the 2020 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.


Rain on Saturday cancelled the fourth qualifying session. Cool temps on Sunday meant the crowd put on their jackets and saw some great racing.



After missing the season opener at Pomona, Steve Torrence came to Phoenix with a new black and red dragster.

Steve’s dragster is in the far lane with dad, Billy, in the near lane.


Torrence took out Jim Maroney in round one and former world champion Shawn Langdon in round two to set up the latest episode of an ongoing family feud that has its roots in sportsman racing. After losing the last two duels to his dad, the younger Torrence regained bragging rights with a narrow 3.698 to 3.699 victory.


The final featured the top two teams from 2019 and gave the sellout crowd a preview of a battle that many believe will rage all season. Both Torrence and Doug Kalitta left with .066 reactions times but Kalitta’s dragster lost traction for a millisecond and that cost his team the win.


Kalitta won the 2019 World Finals and the 2020 Winternationals and was hoping to make it three in a row, but that was not to be. He did, however, maintain the Top Fuel points lead leaving Phoenix.


Kalitta entered race day as the No. 8 qualifier but he made solid and quick runs to defeat Shawn Reed, Brittany Force and Antron Brown before falling to two-time world champion Torrence.


“Man, we are off to a great start,” Kalitta said after the race. “I would have loved to have gotten another win today but you look at our performance and we got stronger every run. It looks like we might have given it a little too much in the final but we can correct that. We have the points lead and we are giving the fans and our sponsors like Mac Tools, Toyota, Mobil 1, NGK, Sealmaster and WIX Filters a great show.”

Brittany Force qualified No. 1 for the 20th time in her career, setting Low ET of 3.643 seconds and Top Speed of 337.92 mph – both track records. Driving for new sponsor Flav-R-Pak, she got past Terry Totten in the first round, but lost in the second to a holeshot by Doug Kalitta.



Tommy Johnson Jr. defeated fellow 'giving car' driver and the winner of the season-opener, Jack Beckman, in the final round to earn his 20th NHRA victory and second at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.


As the No. 4 qualifier, Johnson's journey to the Phoenix winner's circle began with a first-round victory over Paul Lee. Johnson was first out of the gate and never trailed, capturing the win with his 3.878 E.T. In the quarterfinals, Johnson's Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat was quick and consistent yet again, crossing the beams in 3.864 seconds while his opponent Bob Tasca fouled out with a red light.

The semifinals found Johnson (near lane) duking it out with teammate Ron Capps, and again he did not falter, using a starting line advantage coupled with a solid 3.871 E.T. to earn the holeshot win and set up a final-round meeting with Beckman.


Johnson was previously 0-4 in final rounds against his teammate, but this time, the win light would go off in Johnson's lane when he defeated his tire-smoking stablemate with a 3.883-second at 326.40 mph pass.


“We had such a good car last year and we didn’t finish well at all, so to come out strong and get that out of the way right off the bat and know how good a car you have right now is great,” said Johnson who jumps four spots into second place in the Funny Car championship standings.

Beckman initially had the advantage as they launched off the starting line but lost traction in the Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat and, while he made efforts to pedal it, was unable to recover control quickly enough.


Coming off consecutive wins in both the 2019 season finale and the 2020 season opening national event at Pomona, Beckman’s runner-up finish to his teammate keeps him atop the Funny Car championship standings with 220 points.



Erica Enders rolled to the win on Sunday in Phoenix in her Melling Performance Chevrolet Camaro, notching her first victory of the year with a run of 6.531 seconds at 210.44 mph in the final round against Bo Butner.


The impressive showing also provided Elite Motorsports team owner Richard Freeman with the ultimate birthday gift.


“It was Richard’s birthday and we were able to get it done,” Enders said. “He said this morning at breakfast, ‘Hey, you don’t have to buy me a present, just get me a Wally today,’ and we really wanted to get him one. For the entire operation, I’m just excited. I’m thrilled with the group we have and I’m proud of my guys. It’s really awesome.”


Led by crew chiefs Mark Ingersoll and Rick Jones, Enders stepped it up in eliminations, running 6.532 at 210.37 in an opening-round win. A round later, Enders made the quickest run of the weekend in Pro Stock with a stout 6.526 at 211.00 against Chris McGaha. That sent her into the semifinals, where she dispatched Jason Line, tracking him down at the finish line. Enders went 6.555 at 210.28 to nip Line by less than a foot, moving to a final round where she led from start to finish and pulled away at the end.


The victory moved Enders into the points lead over teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr., who won the opening race in Pomona.

Sunday at the 36th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals saw a tremendous shift of good fortune that nearly resulted in victory for KB Racing-powered Bo Butner (above), who reached a Pro Stock final round for the 25th time in his career.


Butner, who exited in the first round at the season-opener, made a solid move in the standings at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. After qualifying in the No. 5 position with his Strutmasters/Jim Butner Auto Group Chevrolet Camaro, the 2017 Pro Stock champion felt that he was lined up for a good performance on Sunday in the Valley of the Sun. But in the first round of eliminations, the engine in his Pro Stocker detonated as he tucked away a victory over a red-lighting Val Smeland.


In round two, Smeland's teammate, Kenny Delco, also fouled out to send Butner ahead with another fortunate win light as he got loose down track and slowed to a 6.863, thereby forfeiting lane choice in the semifinals to Alex Laughlin. There, Laughlin broke as he left the starting line, and Butner surged ahead – but as the finish-line stripe came into view, his Strutmasters-branded Chevy began to slide on the racing surface. Butner called on his years of experience behind the wheel to keep hold of his racecar, and it veered scarily close to the centerline and the timing blocks, but he successfully maneuvered his way to the stripe for the win light.


"We blew up first round, got real loose and shut off second round, then third round I didn't even know Alex broke. My car came within a half-inch of the centerline, just blowing the tires off," said Butner. "I've been in no-prep races, and that's exactly what this was like – maybe worse. I couldn't have taken it another inch." 



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