ELIMINATIONS ROUNDS RECAPS
TOP FUEL ROUND 1 (11:40 p.m.): Brittany Force reset the Sonoma Raceway speed record, running 331.61 mph to accompany her low-of-the-round 3.705 to show the way during a quick opening round that featured all but one winner running in the 3.7s. There were also a couple of upsets in the opener with Terry McMillen and Scott Palmer both winning out of the bottom half of the field. Those round-wins were particularly important for the pair because they are among the drivers battling for the final few spots in the top 10 as the regular season winds down. Shawn Langdon, who entered the event No. 11, also advanced out of round one, while 10th-ranked Troy Coughlin Jr. came up short in his match with points leader Steve Torrence.
Second-round pairings (lane choice first): Leah Pritchett vs. Terry McMillen; Antron Brown vs. Scott Palmer; Brittany Force vs. Shawn Langdon; Steve Torrence vs. Doug Kalitta
FUNNY CAR ROUND 1 (Noon): Robert Hight continued to show the way, recording a 3.853 at 335.23 mph en route to an easy victory against Tim Gibbons, who had troubles at the launch and didn’t record a time. Hight’s run was just one of two 3.8s posted in the round; his teammate John Force had the other at 3.88. Most top-half qualifiers advanced, the exceptions being J.R. Todd who edged his higher-qualified teammate, Alexis DeJoria, and Del Worsham, who won a pedalfest against No. 6 Matt Hagan.
Second-round pairings (lane choice first): Robert Hight vs. Tim Wilkerson; Courtney Force vs. Tommy Johnson Jr.; John Force vs. J.R. Todd; Jack Beckman vs. Del Worsham
PRO STOCK ROUND 1 (12:39 p.m.): There were no upsets in the opening round as the top seeded cars all advanced. The KB Racing team moved on with Greg Anderson, Bo Butner, and Jason Line scoring respective wins over Tom Huggins, Erica Enders, and Steve Graham with Anderson’s 6.546 setting low e.t. of the round. Although Enders was defeated, her car rebounded from her subpar qualifying effort of 6.949 with a 6.567 at 212.13 mph, top speed of the meet so far. Both Line and Tanner Gray clinched NHRA Mello Yello Countdown positions with their wins.
Second-round pairings (lane choice first): Drew Skillman vs. Jeg Coughlin Jr.; Tanner Gray vs. Jason Line , Bo Butner vs. Chris McGaha, and Greg Anderson vs. Vincent Nobile
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE ROUND 1 (12:53 p.m.) The two-wheel contingent put on a wild performance display, led by Matt Smith’s speed of 199.88 mph in his 6.800 to 6.935 conquest of Steve Johnson, which tied the fastest run of all time in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Another eye-opener was Andrew Hines, whose Harley Street Rod, after qualifying with a 6.844, picked up a bunch with a 6.775, 199.20 mph conquest of Scotty Pollacheck’s 6.796. Hector Arana Jr. defeated Cory Reed with a new low e.t. of the meet 6.749 at 199.52 mph, which is the sixth-fastest Pro Stock Motorcycle run ever.
Second-round pairings (lane choice first): Matt Smith vs. Eddie Krawiec; Jerry Savoie vs. Andrew Hines; Hector Arana Jr. vs. Karen Stoffer; LE Tonglet vs. Angie Smith
TOP FUEL ROUND 2 (1:30 p.m.): Terry McMillen upset top qualifier Leah Pritchett to highlight the second round. McMillen ran a 3.78 for the second straight round to finish far ahead of Pritchett, whose entry dropped a cylinder midway through and slowed to a 3.89. McMillen matched the 3.783 of Antron Brown for low e.t. of the round. Unfortunately for McMillen, he faces Brown in the semi’s, and Brown had a better speed, 326.24 to 322.50, giving lane choice to the reigning Top Fuel world champion.
Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Antron Brown vs. Terry McMillen; Steve Torrence vs. Brittany Force
FUNNY CAR ROUND 2 (1:35 p.m.): The second round of Funny Car eliminations was a wild one featuring pedalfests, a big boomer, and one three-second pass that advanced a driver past the second round for the first time since the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte in April. J.R. Todd was the lone driver to break into the threes in round two, posting a 3.973 to best John Force, who hazed the hides late in his pass. Force’s teammates, Robert Hight and Courtney Force, also had tire smoke. Courtney was able to overcome it, while Hight was not, falling to Ti Wilkerson. The big boomer came courtesy of Jack Beckman, whose engine let go while crossing the stripe on a winning pass.
Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Tim Wilkerson vs. Courtney Force; J.R. Todd vs. Jack Beckman
PRO STOCK ROUND 2 (1:57 p.m.) This weekend’s battle of the factory hot rods is shaping up as a KB Racing vs. Gray Motorsports showdown and in the first pairing of entries from the two juggernaut organizations, Tanner Gray drew first blood with a 6.571 to 6.601 win against Jason Line. Drew Skillman held off Jeg Coughlin 6.581 to 6.613, Bo Butner ran a low e.t. of the round 6.565 to best Chris McGaha’s 6.580 and Greg Anderson advanced past Vincent Nobile, 6.568 to 6.674. The semifinal round match-ups guarantee a KB Racing vs. Gray Motorsports final.
Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Tanner Gray vs. Jason Line; Bo Butner vs. Greg Anderson
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE ROUND 2 (2:06 p.m.): The red-hot LE Tonglet who has dominated the action so far in the 2017 season was nearly upset in the second stanza when Angie Smith, who has been enjoying a great weekend, jumped out to a .036 to .097 starting line advantage. Tonglet was barely able to run down Smith’s 6.848 with a 6.780 for a razor thin margin of victory of just .007-second. In the other rounds, Matt Smith, Hector Arana Jr. and Jerry Savoie also advanced.
Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Jerry Savoie vs. Matt Smith; LE Tonglet vs. Hector Arana Jr.
TOP FUEL SEMIFINALS (2:40 p.m.): For the fourth time this season, the battle for the Top Fuel Wally will be between Antron Brown and Steve Torrence, both of whom are appearing in their eighth final round of the 2017 season. Brown punched his ticket to the title round first with a 3.79 to 8.54 win against Terry McMillen. Torrence then joined his on-track rival and good friend in the final when he stopped Brittany Force in their match, 3.75 to 3.88. Torrence, who has lane choice for the final, holds the edge in the previous final-round matches this season, winning two to Brown’s one.
FUNNY CAR SEMIFINALS (2:45 p.m.): The final spot in the NHRA Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Funny Cars will be filled because Tim Wilkerson and J.R. Todd advanced to the final round and are looking for their first win of the season. Both semifinals featured less-than-perfect runs on both sides of the track, but Wilkerson and Todd were able to better overcome the challenges and advance. Wilkerson, who debuted a new car this weekend, posted a 4.08 to get around Courtney Force, who slowed to a 5.04. Todd won a thrilling come-from-behind race against Jack Beckman in a contest that will have people buzzing for a while. Todd’s DHL entry smoked the tires at the hit, and it appeared he was out of contention. However, midway through the run, Beckman’s flopper encountered troubles, ultimately shutting off and leaving him coasting. Todd got back on the throttle and earned a hard-charging, come-from-behind 5.74 to 5.92 victory over Beckman. [animated gif]
PRO STOCK SEMIFINALS (2:51 p.m.): Bo Butner will race against Tanner Gray in the Pro Stock final. Butner, who will be going for his fourth win of the 2017 season, defeated his KB Racing teammate Greg Anderson with a 6.572 to a shut-off 12.623, and Gray advanced in a similar manner with a 6.581 over No. 1 qualifier Drew Skillman, who had his first poorly launched run in recent memory. Gray will be shooting for his third victory of the year, having won at Las Vegas and Topeka, while Butner, who has lane choice, scored in Houston, Atlanta, and Norwalk.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE SEMIFINALS (3:04 p.m.): Defending event champion LE Tonglet has an opportunity to produce the fifth win in his already spectacular 2017 campaign as he is matched up to run Matt Smith in the final. Tonglet advanced to the money round by leaving on Hector Arana Jr., .030 to .068 and then holding on for a 6.796 to 6.800 decision. Smith was out first by a .011 to .061 huge margin in his contest against Jerry Savoie and was able to parlay the early leave into a 6.819 to 6.817 hole shot win. Tonglet will have lane choice.
LUCAS OIL SERIES RESULTS: The McClanahan family just missed a family double when Brian McClanahan took top honors in Stock, and his son, Ryan, finished as the runner-up in Super Comp. The elder McClanahan picked up his first national event Wally when he bested Dwayne Scheitlin in the Stock final. Moments later, Ryan pulled up alongside Val Torres Jr. with a shot to join his dad in the winner’s circle, but it wasn’t meant to be. Torres cut a near-perfect .001 light and turned it into an 8.91 to 8.92 victory over Ryan. This is the second straight year a Torres has won Super Comp at this race; Torres’ dad, Val Sr., earned the win last year.
Following are results from the other Lucas Oil Series finals:
Jody Lang def. Justin Lamb
Evan Kowalski def. Chris Cannon
Chris Borges def. Matt Blodgett
Paul Nero def. Jeff Havens
Bart Smith def. Keith White
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE FINAL (3:52 p.m): Just one day after winning the Mickey Thompson Tires Pro Bike Battle on Saturday, LE Tonglet, near lane, doubled up on Sunday with his fifth victory of 2017. He won the final in one of the closest races in recent memory with a margin of victory of just .0002 second over opponent Matt Smith. The race began with Smith leaving first, .032 to .044, and it appeared that he was going to hold off Tonglet. But Smith’s bike began to veer out of the groove and Smith had to lean over to make the necessary correction, which dragged his speed down to 196.67 mph, his slowest of the weekend, and that may have cost him as Tonglet took the win stripe with a 6.783 to a 6.790. The win was Tonglet’s 15th victory in 19 final round appearances, one of the best records in that category for any Pro driver. Tonglet was also the defending champion from last year's Sonoma event.
PRO STOCK FINAL (4:02 p.m.) Even though Tanner Gray’s Camaro, far lane, had its rough moments in qualifying, the highly skilled Gray Motorsports team came through with a race day tune-up that was effective enough to take him to the final round, where he defeated points leader Bo Butner in a close 6.572 to 6.577 contest. Both drivers were nearly identical on the Tree, with Gray’s .017 light right there with Butner’s .016. The margin of victory was a nail-biting .004-second. Gray also had respective lights of .018 and .017 in the first and second rounds. The victory, which was his third of the year and his first since Topeka, further solidified the young driver’s already firm grip in the race for Rookie of the Year honors. It was also the sixth win of the year for Gray Motorsports, which ties KB Racing for the bragging rights of Pro Stock teams.
FUNNY CAR FINAL (4:05 p.m.): J.R. Todd, near lane, joined the short list of winners in both nitro categories when he bested Tim Wilkerson to earn his first victory in Funny Car. Todd, a nine-time winner in Top Fuel, is the 16th driver to achieve the feat. Todd is also the first African American to win in Funny Car and the first graduate of the NHRA Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League to win in the category. The victory also earned Todd the final spot in the NHRA Traxxas Nitro Shootout, which will be contested as part of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals over Labor Day weekend. Todd, whose last win came here at the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals one year ago, went right down the track in the final, clocking a 4.04, to turn on the win light against Tim Wilkerson, who was alongside Todd early in the run but hazed the tires late and slowed to a 6.82.
TOP FUEL FINAL (4:10 p.m.): Points leader Steve Torrence, far lane, continued to build on his advantage in the standings when he powered to his sixth victory of the 2017 season, besting on-track rival and good friend Antron Brown in the final. This was the fourth time the pair has met in a final this season, and Torrence has come out on top in three of those matches. In their latest final-round bout, Torrence left the starting line first and just pulled away from there as Brown was slowed by a dropped cylinder. Torrence recorded a 3.78 to finish more than two-tenths ahead of Brown, who could only muster a 3.97. This is Torrence’s 14th Top Fuel win of his career and 18th overall (his other four are in Top Alcohol Dragster).
Looking for a dark-horse candidate in Top Fuel today? You may want to keep your eyes on Mike Salinas and the Scrappers Racing team. Salinas has had a career weekend so far, resetting his personal bests twice during qualifying, and he will look to add to that today. Salinas improved his e.t. and speed bests on Friday night when he powered to a 3.785 at 322.42 mph. Salinas then upped that during the final round of qualifying, clocking a 3.779 at 324.67 mph. Not only was that a career best for Salinas, but the 3.77 was the quickest time of the final session, netting Salinas three qualifying bonus points, a first for him.
“We’re coming for it,” said Salinas, after his 3.77 pass. “We’re working on it. Little baby steps, we’re going to get there. Doug Kuch and all the guys on the team are doing a great job, and it’s just working out really nice. I appreciate the help from Alan [Johnson]. It’s doing really good. We’re going to get this. Our goal is to be in the 3.6s.”
Salinas ended up 10th in the order and lines up against Shawn Langdon in the opening round.
Scott Palmer is feeling a lot better entering eliminations today after his Tommy Thompson Motorsports entry went right downtrack with a competitive 3.83 in the final round of qualifying yesterday. The run followed a pair of tire-smoking passes that had his team scratching their heads a bit, but after Q3, the group, with assistance from the Lagana brothers, did a thorough look through the car and discovered a problem with it.
“We had a couple of runs there where we smoked the tires early, and the Lagana brothers came over, and we all found an issue with the clutch,” said Palmer, who matches up with Tony Schumacher in the opener. “We bled the clutch, and it went right down there like it’s been doing. Everything’s good. Car’s back on track. Now, we’ve got a car for race day.”
Palmer has raced “the Sarge” three times this year, and Schumacher holds a 2-1 edge entering today’s contest. Palmer will look to even up the score today and gain valuable points in his quest to make the top 10. Palmer entered the event ranked ninth, 32 points ahead of 10th-place Troy Coughlin Jr. and 82 in front of 11th-place Shawn Langdon.
The surprise of race day in Top Fuel has to be Terry McMillen, who has tallied a pair of round-wins to advance to the semifinals, his deepest race-day result since the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in April, where he was part of the final four and registered a semifinal finish. McMillen stopped Clay Millican in the opening round, then got around No. 1 qualifier Leah Pritchett in round two. Of course, these round-wins couldn’t have come at a better time for McMillen, who is in the battle for one of the final Countdown to the Championship spots.
“That’s all Rob Wendland and my guys. They’ve been busting for such a long time, and we’ve been working extremely hard to get this car in the winner’s circle and, more important than that, to get in that top 10,” said McMillen, who entered the event ranked eighth and now is adding a little cushion between himself and Scott Palmer, who exited in round two; Troy Coughlin Jr., who lost in the first round; and Shawn Langdon, who bowed out in the second stanza. “That was a huge win. Certainly, Leah and Don Schumacher Racing are the baddest out here. We’ve got a Don Schumacher car and a lot of help from Don, and we really appreciate that. But for Rob Wendland and the guys, that one was for you. Let’s go out there and see what we can do. It’s not over yet. We left on some yellow baby. Let’s go out and have some fun now.”
Two of the best races of the opening round of Funny Car were the intramural skirmishes between Don Schumacher Racing teammates Tommy Johnson Jr. and Ron Capps and Kalitta Motorsports’ J.R. Todd and Alexis DeJoria. In the DSR match, Johnson came out on top in a thrilling 3.9 to 3.9 match, winning with a 3.90 vs. the 3.94 of Capps.
“That NAPA team’s tough. They’ve dominated Funny Car this year,” said Johnson. “They’ve dominated Funny Car this year, and you hate racing your teammates first round. That was just a great run 332 [mph] — we don’t run that kind of speed. That was kind of cool.”
The race between Kalitta cars was equally good with both Todd and DeJoria putting 3.95s on the scoreboard. Todd came out ahead thanks to a .083 to .137 reaction-time edge that allowed his slightly slower 3.953 to turn on the win light over DeJoria’s 3.950.
“You’re going against ‘Chachi’ and Nicky [crew chiefs Tommy DeLago and Nicky Boninfante] over there,” said Todd. “That Patron car, you better have your act together because they’re getting that thing turned around, but so are Todd [Smith] and Jon O. [Oberhofer] with this DHL Toyota Camry. I mean, it’s Eric Medlen country out here. It would be pretty special if we could come back here and win again for him and his family.”
Todd was the Top Fuel champion at this event last year and is seeking his first victory in the Funny Car ranks.
Del Worsham tallied his first round-win since Epping in early June, but it didn’t come pretty. Worsham had to pedal his Lucas Oil-adorned entry, covering the 1,000-foot course in 5.14 seconds. Though not the run Worsham and his family-owned team were looking for, the 5.14 was more than enough to cover Matt Hagan, who struck the tires at the hit and coasted to a 10.95.
“I’m not sure what happened, but the throttle seemed to stick shut,” said Worsham, of the crazy run. “Finally, I just kicked it, and it opened up a little bit, so we have something binding up the throttle on it. That’s a pretty ugly way to win a round, but I don’t know what happened to Matt. What a tough way to go out there and smoke the tires, but we get another shot at it.”
After some strong numbers to open things up, the second round of Funny Car was filled with tire smoke, but fans were treated to some very entertaining races nonetheless. With the traction issues, that opened the door for some exciting pedal contests, including one between Courtney Force and Tommy Johnson Jr. that elicited a loud cheer from fans when it concluded. The duo smoked the tires at nearly the same time, and both were on and off the throttle multiple times trying to get their entries to recover. Though still trailing tire smoke through the finish line, Force was able to get her entry down the track a little better, running a 6.03 to win against Johnson’s 7.04.
“Man, I definitely had my hands full on that race,” said Force. “It definitely went up in smoke quick. I didn’t see anybody out my window, and I just started pedaling it to get that car down there. We don’t want to get a win like that, but it sure was a lot of fun to get that car down there, so really happy to get that win. We’re going to the semi’s and see if we can get it done.”
Independent racer Alan Pruiensky continues to make steady progress despite the limitations that come with being a one car team with his own engine program, ARC Engines. “It’s hard racing against the multi-car teams because we just don’t have the data that they can accumulate. But we just work at it day by day and we’re getting better. It used to be we’d be at the very end of the qualifying order, but this weekend we are 12th [with a 6.625].
Pruiensky is a former bracket racer who also raced in Top Sportsman before moving up to Pro Stock in 2015. “My first heroes were the Dodge Boys, Darrell Alderman and Scott Geoffrion. When I watched them, that’s when I first got inspired to try Pro Stock some day.”
Though Erica Enders was defeated in the first round by Bo Butner in a 6.549 to 6.567, she was still thrilled that her team was able to restore her Elite Motorsports Camaro back to competitive form after a disastrous qualifying weekend in which she made it down the track only one time with a less than stellar time of 6.94. “My guys never gave up and they were able to produce a respectable run for us,” said Enders. “It’s just too bad that we couldn’t have had that run in Q4, because we could have moved up the ladder and wouldn’t have had to race Bo.”
Enders also said that she wasn’t able to set up her clutch pedal in the normal fashion. “When I know how the clutch arrangement is, I can set the clutch linkage for the best possible light. It’s like my delay box. But this was a brand new set up so I went up to the starting line blind.” As it was her light was a .038.
Enders said that she is relieved that she can head up to Seattle knowing that she again has a competitive car. “If we wouldn’t have been able to fix it, we would have stayed here on Monday for more testing.”
Drew Skillman’s team had been dealing with a fuel injection issue all weekend, and when they solved the problem, it inadvertently led to the No. 1 qualifier’s upset loss in the semifinal round to Gray Motorsports teammate Tanner Gray.
“The glitch was causing our engine to die in the burnouts, among other things,” said Skillman, “and so it was naturally something we wanted to fix. But what we didn’t anticipate is that it gave the engine extra torque, and so we shook real hard in first and second gear. In hindsight, it would have been better if we left it alone. But that’s all behind us now. It’s in our data base now and hopefully that won’t happen to us again.”
Good things were predicted for then 10-time Pro Stock Motorcycle national event winner LE Tonglet when the decision was made for him to hook up with White Alligator Racing (WAR) team owner Jerry Savoie for the 2018 campaign. But few anticipated that Tonglet would go on to win four of the season’s first seven national events, along with yesterday’s Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle.
But among those who were not surprised was Savoie. “I’ve watched LE grow up over the years,” he said, “and I’ve known for a long time that he’s been a good rider, and I figured that he’d win more by putting him one a really good bike. We don’t have the power of the Harleys, but we get our good elapsed times from managing our runs better.”
Said Tonglet, “I expected that things would improve somewhat when I joined Jerry’s team, but I didn’t think that it would be this much this soon. All I do is ride and provide some of the input. It’s Jerry and the rest of the guys on the team that makes our bike run so good.”
Tonglet has been so successful this season that many people were surprised by his second round loss to Tonglet last weekend in Denver. “We were having to deal with a bogging problem off the line,” said Tonglet. “That was costing us .05-second or even more, which is impossible to make up.” After winning the Pro Bike Battle on Saturday, those problems have apparently been overcome and he has yet another opportunity to add to his already amazing season with today’s regular eliminations.
Even though Eddie Krawiec won last weekend’s Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals and scored a runner-up finish in the Mickey Thompson Tires Pro Bike Battle, both he and teammate Andrew Hines admit that they still have some work to do in sorting out the chassis tuning requirements.
Said Hines, “We need to get our bikes to leave better in the first five feet. That’s where we are having trouble, and it’s hurting our 60-foot times. Power is no problem for the Harley duo, as shown with Hines qualifying speed of 199.55 mph. “When we get the bikes to leave better,” said Hines, “the top end speeds will be even faster.”
Although Pro Stock Motorcycle rookie Joey Gladstone has not yet repeated his superb semifinal-round showing in his debut outing at the Gatornationals, he has recorded four quarterfinal-round finishes and has suffered only two first-round losses this season.
This would be regarded as a great start for any first-year rider, but the humble Gladstone is not one to toot his horn. “It’s been a busy year with lots of ups and downs. This is a lot harder than most people think it would be, but I really enjoy it. I’ve got to travel to all parts of the country this year and seen lots of neat places. All in all, I’m living a dream.”
Gladstone says that the level of competition is what makes Pro Stock Motorcycle so challenging. “There’s a lot of good riders out there and when they get hooked up with the very smart people on so many of these teams, they become very hard to beat.”
Gladstone headed into the event in eighth place and 90 points away from breaking into the top 5. “I’d like to think that we can improve on our eighth-place standing, but we would need to win a race to get in the top five. It didn’t happen this weekend as Gladstone was defeated by his quasi-teammate Karen Stoffer in round one in a very close 6.844 to 6.846 decision
One of the most popular attractions in the pit area was the Nostalgia Get-Together on the main paddock that featured a wide variety of vintage dragsters, hot rods, and much more.
Would the real Ron Capps step forward? The reigning world champ had a little fun with a cutout of himself prior to his warmup before the start of eliminations today.
LE Tonglet, who scored a double-win this weekend with Saturday’s Mickey Thompson Tires Pro Bike Battle and Sunday’s eliminations, was one of four high-profile drivers who guided the fans on the traditional pre-race SealMaster Track Walk.
Shawn Langdon and his nephew, Caden, joined NHRA announcer Brian Lohnes for NHRA’s Facebook Live video behind the scenes of driver intros.
Steve Johnson was his usual playful self when he grabbed the microphone during Sunday morning’s pre-race activities.
Matt Hagan, one of the drivers who clinched a Countdown berth at the Denver event, signed the Countdown board prior to the first round of eliminations.
As was the case for all of the Pro category No. 1 qualifiers, Robert Hight was joined on stage by his entire crew after he earned the pole position for Funny Car.
Courtney Force, who was defeated by Jim Campbell in the first round at Denver, avenged the loss by beating Campbell in the opening stanza of the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals.
J.R. Todd’s Funny Car victory triggered one of the world-famous Kalitta mosh pits on the starting line.
The four Pro winners sprayed one another with champagne during their on-stage celebrations following their well-earned victories.
It's race day at the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals. Which drivers will pair up against one another in the opening round? Following is a look at the first-round pairings in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle.