The 2018 season was full of exciting moments, but which were the most memorable? NHRA fans took part in a vote and selected the 18 Most Memorable Moments of the season, which will be revealed in reverse order through the end of the year.
Steve Torrence entered the Countdown to the Championship playoffs as the No. 1 seed in Top Fuel by cracking a joke, pointing out that if only he could just win every round, the points would take care of themselves. He had no idea he and his Capco Contractors team were about to do just that.
The team, led by crew chief Richard Hogan, went a perfect 24-0 in the Countdown with wins in Reading, St. Louis, Dallas, Charlotte, Las Vegas, and Pomona, becoming the first team to ever sweep the Countdown.
“No matter what happens from this point on, I’m always gonna be the 2018 Top Fuel world champion, and I’m always gonna be the first person ever to sweep the Countdown,” he said. “I would like to think that it probably will never be done again. If it does, I want to be the one doing it again.”
Stevie “Fast” Jackson has always been a fast talker capable of backing it up with fast performances, but when he entered the ultra-competitive world of NHRA Pro Mod racing, some wondered whether he would be silenced. Hardly
After winning twice in 2017, Jackson became a serious contender again in 2018 with two more wins, including his first at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals --reversing his final-round loss at the Charlotte Four-Wide Nationals by defeating Jose Gonzalez in the final -- that came on the heels of a pairs of DNQs and some early-round losses that preceded it.
“If you had asked me five races ago if we would win another race in my career I would’ve told you, ‘no,’ ” Jackson stated. “This car kicked my butt for a while. If you give Billy Stocklin (crew chief) and I enough swings at it though we can knock the candy out of the pinata."
After years of trying, fan favorite Terry McMillen finally scored his first NHRA national event at the penultimate event of 2017 in Las Vegas. What could the driver of the Amalie Motor Oil dragster do for an encore in 2018? How about winning the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals?
McMillen and crew chief Rob Wendland picked up wins against Scott Palmer, points leader Steve Torrence and Blake Alexander before defeating Doug Kalitta to take home the Wally. The win also boosted McMillen into the No. 7 seed heading into the Countdown to the Championship.
“You know, it’s so surreal because it’s one of the most prestigious races out there,” McMillen said. “To have your name that you won Indy is one of the highest accomplishments you can have. I’ve always known that this year was going to be a good year, but I couldn’t have scripted that it was going to be this good.”
J.R. Todd spent 10 years in Top Fuel where he established himself as a strong presence, but it took a switch to Funny Car two seasons ago to really showcase his skills, which culminated in a second straight U.S. Nationals win and his first season championship. Todd had come close before, finishing second in Top Fuel behind Tony Schumacher in 2014, but his jump from No. 9 in Funny car in 2017 to No. 1 in 2018.
“I feel like I’ve been racing forever, but at the same time, I still consider myself one of the younger guys out here,” said Todd. “I always thought it would be in a Top Fuel dragster though, I’ve never really considered myself a Funny Car guy.”
Todd and crew chiefs Jon Oberhofer and Todd Smith scored six wins in 2018, including three during the Countdown (Reading, Las Vegas, and Pomona) to go from the No. 5 seed straight to the championship throne.
Clay Millican entered the 2018 season as the national record holder in Top Fuel with a 3.631 recorded late in 2017 and didn’t waste any time improving on that number, blasting his Dave Grubnic-tuned Parts Plus dragster to a 3.628 during Saturday qualifying at the season-opening Winternationals.
“I kind of had an idea where were we going to try to run before we had that long delay [oildown], which was 3.65-3.66, and I saw some changes being made [by the crew], so at that point it was all out the window. I knew at about 330 feet that it wasn’t going to run what ‘Grubby’ told me it was going to run. I got a brief glimpse of the scoreboard and the .62 and went, ‘Wow!’ Truth is, the driver made a boo-boo; I shut the car off early. My explanation to was that I was leaving ‘Grubby’ some room so we could reset the record again.”
That didn’t happen for him or anyone else as the mark stood the test of time throughout the year to remain the class standard though Leah Pritchett came close with a 3.631 of her own at the season finale in Pomona.
More drag racing history was made at the 2018 Auto Club NHRA Finals where, for the first time in history, all of the season champions also won the season finale: Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), J.R. Todd (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock), and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
Mike Janis won his first E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod championship in dramatic fashion in Las Vegas. After suffering an unexpected first-round loss, Janis had to watch from the sidelines as Rick Hord defeated challenger Rickie Smith in round two to seal the title for Janis.
Hector Arana Jr. added his name to the list of barrier breakers in NHRA history when he made the sport’s first 200-mph Pro Stock pass in Gainesville to become the first member of the Denso 200-mph Club.
Stevie “Fast” Jackson was part of the four-wide Pro Mod finale in Charlotte but lost twice in the dramatic money run, finishing second behind Jose Gonzales and then crashing his car in the shutdown area.
Robert Hight scored a huge Countdown victory in St. Louis but exploded the engine in his final-round victory, sending this Auto Club Chevy into the guardwall hard enough to break his left collarbone. The two-time season champ bounced back though, having surgery the following week, then winning the Dallas event just two weeks after the incident.
The first half of John Force’s season was a blur of fire and fury as the 16-time champ rode out a pair of blower explosions at the season opener, got tangled up in a two-car crash with Jonnie Lindberg in Phoenix, and slammed the guardwall hard in Chicago.
The Torrence Racing family had a lot to celebrate in 2018, but even eventual Top Fuel champ Steve Torrence says the greatest moment was seeing his father, Billy, score his first Top Fuel event win in Brainerd.
At just 19 years and six months of age, Tanner Gray became NHRA’s youngest pro championship when he locked up the Pro Stock championship at the Auto Club NHRA Finals. The previous youngest was LE Tonglet, who was 20 years and 11 months old when he won the Pro Stock Motorcycle crown in 2010.
Leah Pritchett in Top Fuel and Courtney Force in Funny Car became just the second female duo to sweep nitro honors at an NHRA national event when they both scored in Atlanta. Pritchett also was part of the first such sweep when she and Funny Car racer Alexis DeJoria both won in Brainerd in 2017.
With his victory in Comp at the season-ending Auto Club NHRA Finals, Sportsman racing great David Rampy became just the fourth driver in NHRA history to score 100 national event wins.
Brittany Force’s Top Fuel championship defense got off to the worst imaginable start when she lost control of her Monster Energy dragster and crashed into both guardwalls at the season-opening Winternationals.
The 2018 Pro Stock Motorcycle championship came down to a winner-take-all final round at the Auto Club NHRA Finals, where Matt Smith defeated Eddie Krawiec with everything in the line to collect his third season championship and cap a dominating weekend in which he exceeded 200 mph on a number of passes.
J.R. Todd added his name to a very short list of drivers that includes legends like Don Prudhomme and Ed McCulloch when he became just the sixth driver to win Funny Car at the U.S. Nationals in back to back seasons.