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Auto Club NHRA Finals Sunday Notebook

11 Nov 2018
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage

Ladders | Features | Results | Photos


TOP FUEL ROUND 1 (11:30 a.m.): Steve Torrence's round-win streak reached 21 but it wasn't easy or pretty as his Mello Yello/Capco car faltered just off the line with a dropped cylinder and went just 3.99; fortunately for him opponent Cameron Ferre smoked the tires in Terry Haddock's car and allowed him to advance. Tony Schumacher, in his last race for the U.S. Army, had low e.t. of the round with a 3.694 and will face Bill Litton in round two, Litton, a rookie of the year finalist, advanced to the second round at the expense of low qualifier Leah Pritchett, who smoked the tires at the green.

Second-round pairings (lane choice first): Tony Schumacher vs. Bill Litton; Blake Alexander vs. Clay Millican; Billy Torrence vs. Steve Torrence; Brittany Force vs. Antron Brown.

FUNNY CAR ROUND 1 (12:05 p.m.): Well, that didn’t take long. All of the hype of a possible second-round clash for the championship ended when Robert Hight smoked the tires against Bob Tasca III to secure the title for points leader J.R. Todd. After a brief starting-line celebration, Todd and the DHL team didn’t accept that as good enough as they followed in the next pair by convincingly beating Jim Campbell with a 3.93. Low qualifier Ron Capps had low e.t. of the round with a 3.904, just ahead of teammate Tommy Johnson Jr.'s 3.905.

Second-round pairings (lane choice first): Ron Capps vs. Shawn Langdon; J.R. Todd vs. Bob Tasca III; John Force vs. Jack Beckman; Tommy Johnson Jr. vs. Courtney Force

PRO STOCK ROUND 1 (12:25 p.m.): A 6.51, which looked rare during qualifying, started to look much more common during the first round of eliminations. Drew Skillman went low of the round with a 6.515 and the racer was followed (very closely) by Jeg Coughlin Jr. (6.516), Erica Enders (6.517) and Jason Line (6.518). Did you know Pro Stock racing is very close in 2018? Coughlin qualified No. 1 with a 6.51 and it appears the field has started to gain on the yellow and black Camaro sponsored by JEGS.com. The second round gives us a great matchup: Enders vs. Tanner Gray one last time. 

Second round pairings (lane choice first): Jeg Coughlin Jr. vs. Bo Butner; Drew Skillman vs. Greg Anderson; Jason Line vs. Alex Laughlin; Erica Enders vs. Tanner Gray

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE ROUND 1 (12:38 p.m.): There are still four riders in contention for the championship after the first round of competition, including Eddie Krawiec. He made the quickest pass of the session (6.802) and will take on Jerry Savoie in a battle of the 2017 and 2016 champs. Matt Smith got what was effectively a solo round when Angie Smith didn’t take the tree after performing a massive burnout. That worked out for Matt, because his bike suffered an air line break at about half track. Hector Arana Jr. and LE Tonglet both advanced to the second round, keeping their slim title hopes alive. 

Second round pairings (lane choice first): Hector Arana Sr. vs. Matt Smith; Andrew Hines vs. LE Tonglet; Hector Arana Jr. vs. Angelle Sampey; Eddie Krawiec vs. Jerry Savoie

SUPER COMP CHAMPIONSHIP DECIDED: Steve Williams became the final Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series champ to clinch his title. Williams collected the title when his closest pursuer, Mark Grame, fell in the quarterfinals. Had Grame won the round he would have had a bye run into the final which would have given him the championship.

TOP FUEL ROUND 2 (1:25 p.m.): Blake Alexander brought the Clay Millican-David Grubnic driver-crew chief collaboration to an early end by beating the national record holders on a 3.74 to 3.73 holeshot while Steve Torrence ran his Countdown record to 22-0 by beating his father, Billy, with a sizzling 3.67 as he continues to close on an historic first Countdown sweep. Brittany Force also found the 3.60s with a 3.68 to beat Antron Brown but won’t have lane choice against Torrence. Tony Schumacher, in his last race with the U.S. Army, got a break, smoking the tires after Bill Litton had to be shut off on the starting line but he’ll cede lane choice to Alexander. 

Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Blake Alexander vs. Tony Schumacher; Steve Torrence vs. Brittany Force

FUNNY CAR ROUND 2 (1:40 p.m.): The race was almost lost before it began for Tommy Johnson Jr. as the Make-A-Wish Dodge initially wouldn’t start, but the crew got it lit and ran low e.t. of the round with a 3.913 to beat Courtney Force. T.J will be joined by Don Schumacher Racing teammates Ron Cappps (3.921) and Jack Beckman (3.936) and newly-crowned world champ J.R. Todd, who eked out a .004-second victory over Bob Tasca III, whose first-round victory over Robert Hight had sealed the championship in Todd’s favor. 

Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Ron Capps vs. J.R. Todd; Tommy Johnson Jr. vs. Jack Beckman

PRO STOCK ROUND 2 (1:55 p.m.): Jeg Coughlin Jr. once again ran low of the round (6.525) to get around the holeshot advantage of Bo Butner, booking him a meeting with Drew Skillman in the semifinals. Skillman was no slouch (6.535), but that e.t. wasn’t enough to allow him to pick his lane. Tanner Gray dispatched Erica Enders via a slight holeshot with a killer light (.003) in their final meeting in NHRA Drag Racing competition, closing the chapter on one of the best rivalries in Pro Stock racing. 

Semifinal pairings: Jeg Coughlin Jr. vs. Drew Skillman; Tanner Gray vs. Jason Line

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE ROUND 2 (2:05 p.m.): Matt Smith eliminated Hector Arana Jr. and LE Tonglet in one fell swoop by defeating Hector Arana Sr. in the second stanza of action. The championship battle will continue to the semifinals, though, because Eddie Krawiec got past 2016 champion Jerry Savoie by nearly a tenth of a second. That sets up a big-time showdown in the semi’s as Smith will battle Tonglet and Krawiec will take on Arana with Krawiec needing to advance to keep his championship hopes alive. Smith just needs Krawiec to lose to clinch his third title. 

Semifinal pairings: Matt Smith vs. LE Tonglet; Eddie Krawiec vs. Hector Arana Jr.

TOP FUEL SEMIFINALS (2:45 p.m.): Tony Schumacher advanced to the final round, the 153rd of his career, and is the last driver standing between Steve Torrence and a Countdown sweep. Both Schumacher and Torrence ran 3.705 but Schumacher, who defeated Blake Alexander, will get lane choice based on his 332-mph speed compared to the 328-mph clip of Torrence in his defeat of Brittany Force in his 23rd straight round win.

FUNNY CAR SEMIFINALS (2:50 p.m.): J.R. Todd showed no signs of letting up even two rounds after clinching his first career championship, “showing off” for his sponsors with a 3.889 to end the day of low qualifier Ron Capps. Todd will have final-round lane choice against Tommy Johnson Jr., who defeated teammate Jack Beckman with a 3.913 to reach the final round of the Auto Club NHRA Finals for the fourth straight year aiming for his third straight victory. 

PRO STOCK SEMIFINALS (2:53 p.m.): Tanner Gray and Drew Skillman will face off in the last final round of the season. Both are racing for the final time in the foreseeable future and both desperately want to wrap up their NHRA careers with a victory. Skillman is looking for his first win of the season while Gray is chasing his third win of the Countdown to the Championship. Skillman will have lane choice over his teammate, the newly crowned Pro Stock champion, by just a thousandth of a second. Gray was better on the tree by .003 second, setting up a great final. 


PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE SEMIFINALS (2:59 p.m.): We’re getting a winner-take-all final in the two-wheel category. Matt Smith dominated LE Tonglet with another 200-mph run and secured lane choice over Eddie Krawiec. The Harley-Davidson rider dispatched Hector Arana Jr. to give himself a chance at back-to-back Pro Stock Motorcycle championships. He’s giving up nearly a tenth of a second to Smith entering the final round of competition, so he’ll have his work cut out for him chasing down the No. 1 qualifier. 

RAMPY'S 100TH WIN HIGHLIGHTS SPORTSMAN RESULTS: With his victory in Comp, David Rampy became just the fourth driver in NHRA history to collect 100 national event wins to highlight racing in the in seven Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series classes that competed at the event. Final-round results.

Alcohol Dragster
James Stevens def. Julie Nataas


Alcohol Funny Car
Shane Westerfield def. Ulf Leanders

David Rampy def. Doug Lambeck

Super Stock
Steve Wann def. Gary Emmons

Jeff Taylor def. Ryan Mangus

Super Comp
Chad Webber def. Tony Helms

Super Gas
Roger Kato def. Greg Ventura

NHRA SUMMIT RACING SERIES CHAMPIONSHIPS:  Pat Osmundson, Nelson Belot Jr., Brian Hendrickson, and John Markham claimed NHRA Summit Racing Series National Championships in special eight-car eliminators comprised of divisional champions from across the country [story]

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE FINAL (3:58 p.m.): Matt Smith, near lane, made the fastest run in Pro Stock Motorcycle history (201.22 mph) to earn his third Mello Yello NHRA Drag Racing Series title. Smith left at the same time as Eddie Krawiec, pulled a better 60-foot time and then pulled away to bring home a title for Elite Performance. It’s his first title since 2013.

PRO STOCK FINAL (4:05 p.m.): Tanner Gray, near lane, leaves NHRA Drag Racing a champion. Not only did he lock up a world championship on Saturday night, he defeated teammate a red-lighting Drew Skillman with a .010 light of his own. He finishes his NHRA career with 13 Pro Stock wins, including eight this season, in just 24 starts.


FUNNY CAR FINAL (4:12 p.m.): J.R. Todd, near lane, put an exclamation point on a championship-winning season by also winning the season finale, powering the DHL Toyota to a 3.87 to 3.88 final-round victory over defending event champ Tommy Johnson Jr. The victory is his sixth of the season and third of the Countdown playoffs.

TOP FUEL FINAL (4:16 p.m.): Steve Torrence, far lane, completed the once-unthinkable feat of sweeping all six Countdown to the Championship events, going a perfect 24-0 by defeating Tony Schumacher on a final-round holeshot, 3.702 to 3.700. Torrence, who clinched the season championship two weeks ago in Las Vegas, completed another first-ever accomplishment as all four season champions also won the season finale. 

TOP FUEL WINNER STEVE TORRENCE: “It’s truly been unbelievable. To go out and do what those Capco boys did is solely by the grace of the good Lord. We’ve won some rounds that we probably shouldn’t have won and just been in the right place. We wanted to come here and [win six straight events] and set the precedent and we have. Nobody can beat us now, they can only tie us. That’s a pretty cool stat to put behind your name. We just wanted to go four rounds every time we came to the racetrack. 

“I knew [the final] was close; I could hear him the whole way. I felt like I crushed the Tree because I rolled it in deep because we weren’t worried about lane choice. The confidence I’ve seen grow in my whole team has been neat to watch. I believed in Richard Hogan in 2011 when we started this team and this is what happens when you hire a guy and you stick with him.”

FUNNY CAR WINNER J.R. TODD: “Seeing Robert [Hight] smoke the tires first round was instant relief. You hate to wish bad things on anyone, but it was instant relief. I was pretty stressed and trying hard not to show it. It was a stressful time between here and Las Vegas. 

“My guys are great at what they do, Todd Smith and Jon [Oberhofer] they really have a handle on the tune-up; they were almost calling their shots except for the .80 we ran in the semi’s where they thought we would go a .90, so they over-achieved there. In the final, I had it way out of the groove and I thought for sure it was going to smoke the tires and it goes .87. That was a big-time run. The guys really stayed focused which was tough because there were a  lot of distractions, but they did their job.”

PRO STOCK WINNER TANNER GRAY: "I honestly felt like I had no pressure at all coming into this race. Even when you're not in the Countdown or just racing in the regular season you have pressure because you want to win, but for me, coming in here today I just tried to enjoy the moment. This was the last time I was going to race with those guys. We wrapped up the championship during qualifying and I wanted to enjoy the time and take it all in. Obviously winning the championship and winning the race just made it all the more special." 

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE WINNER MATT SMITH: "We went through a lot today. The air line broke during the first round and then the transmission broke going into the lights during the second round. So, my guys did their job and we turned the bike around and fixed all the stupid stuff that broke. Then we put up three 200-mph runs and then ran the fastest run of all time in the final. I just have to give it up to my guys who did all this amazing work on my bike. It's really amazing and they deserve all the credit in the world."



Steve Torrence has half of the prize already in his possession, having clinched his first Top Fuel championship two weeks ago during eliminations in Las Vegas, and now he sets his sights on the other: completing the once-unthinkable perfect Countdown.

Torrence, crew chief Richard Hogan, and “the Capco boys” have already won the first five events in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs, amassing a 20-0 record, and would love nothing more than to add another four win lights today. 

“It’s crazy,” Torrence admitted. “You look back and that’s what we said we were going to do and what we intended to do, but to then go out and do it … I said ‘If you just go out and win them all, the points take care of themselves, but the likelihood of that happening was just me running my mouth. Last year I talked a lot of trash, and it didn’t really work for me. This year I just let the car do the talking. We just went out and raced and had a good time it’s difficult not to have a good time when your car is running good and you’re winning races.”

And make no mistake, even if they can’t go four-for-four today, it’s won’t take anything away from an amazing season.

He remembers, “I brought all of my crew guys in on Saturday in Charlotte and told them. ‘No matter what happens from the point forward, we won the first three races, so take a step back, let’s get on the other side of the [pit] ropes and look at what we’ve accomplished as a team. No matter the outcome of this Countdown, be proud of what we’re doing because no one has done this. We’re going out and dominating, we’re a single-car team, and it makes me proud to be part of it and represent Capco.’

“It just feels good that the championship pressure is off,” he continued. “We’re just having a good time. Last year it looked like we had [the championship] and we didn’t, so to recover the way we did and have the season we did, it’s pretty surreal.

“Winning it all would be the cherry on top, but there are a lot of good cars out there. You have Clay Millican, you have Tony, you have Leah, you have Antron. At this point in the time the competition level is higher than it’s ever been, but we didn’t come here just to participate. We came here to win.
“Winning five in a row, it’s going to be a long time before anyone can beat it and we’d like to make it that they could only ever tie us, but if we can’t I don’t think it going to knock the shine off of this year.”

Leah Pritchett is still being tough on herself for not being able to stop Steve Torrence’s reign of terror when she faced off with him in the final round in Las Vegas two weeks ago. She got her beautiful chromed Pennzoil machine off the line first with a lethal .019 reaction time to his .047 and would have needed just a 3.78 to beat his 3.75, but then a funny thing happened. She double-stepped the throttle and the car went up in instant smoke.

What went happened? Pritchett gave us a deep inside look at driver mentality that probably goes beyond what many of us thought.

“First, I get more amped as the day goes on and I was really looking forward to racing Steve,” she said. “It would have been nice to be the one to stop Steve and to have one back on Gary [her husband, who does the clutch for Torrence].

“But, we had a real difficult turnaround before the final to where I was even getting suited up in the pits and under this huge time crunch, but then Funny Car took a long time so I had a lot of time to think about the final. I felt good. Steve always brings out the best in me. I felt very confident and I know that if I’m going to be a champion someday, I’m going to have to beat the champions. 

“My lights haven’t been that consistent, for a number of reasons, but I really excited to race Steve, and I challenge myself to get into this headspace, and when I get there, unfortunately for everyone else, I zone out. I’ve got my music and my team and my car, and that’s basically what my bandwidth is to be able to do my job. Does it make people mad sometimes? Sure. But at the end of the day I’m here to do my very best job.

“So, we all know what reaction and reaction time is, right, but there’s also something called anticipated reaction, which is when you go through something so many times in your mind. I’ve been working a lot on practice Trees and I’ve also been working on my throttle [foot] position, and when I left I thought, ‘Oh, that was so good,’ but because it was a different reaction from what I had been doing, my foot thought it was too soon My brain knew it was fine, but my foot didn’t. In the times I’ve gone red before, like in qualifying, I know that I’ve gone red but stayed in it.

“Did I fail? Absolutely. I failed the team and the sponsors, but if I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have know where my line is.”

A win in Pomona would go a long way towards making the Southern California native forget the slip

“It feels like home,” she said. “Here in Pomona, the fans give me that sense of home. For us to chase history on this track makes me feel like our team is very well on its way to earning a spot in history, which is what we’re working towards.”

Steve Torrence’s 20-round win streak is obviously on everyone’s mind, including Tony Schumacher, who holds the record for most consecutive win lights with 31 back in 2008.

“Winning that many rounds in a row, it actually gets more difficult to keep it going,” observed Schumacher. “You start to feel like the shoe is going to fall off, that someone is going to beat you. But they key is to try to forget, to just show up and keep doing the same thing that got you there. Just try to be a machine because it gets exponentially harder, and you know that eventually someone is going to beat you. People start taking shots at you. But you need to just live in the moment. Enjoy the moment and try to take the time to smell the roses. 

"It’s a very difficult thing to do what he’s accomplished and to have the opportunity to do what he has a chance to do today. No one has eve swept it because it’s a very difficult thing to do. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible because he’s got the team who can do it. We’re all going to try to stop him.”

The Funny Car championship battle that will play out today took a couple of interesting twists during the final qualifying session Friday.

For a long time, it looked like points leader J.R. Todd would qualify eighth and have a first-round matchup with his teammate, Shawn Langdon, which everyone assume would be a dream scenario for the Kalitta team. It would have been so easy for Todd and the DHL “Yella Fellas” to make a shutoff pass to retain what some might perceive as a favorable matchup, but the team was having none of that as crew chief Jon Oberhofer and Todd Smith tuned the yellow Toyota to a 3.897 to jump to the No. 4 spot. Asked about the move, a team spokesman said, ‘J.R. just said, “We don’t play that [B.S.].” ‘

The move to the No. 4 spot became even more intriguing when second-place Robert Hight ended up in the No. 5 spot, meaning that the two championship challengers could face off in round two. Todd will have to beat Jim Campbell and Hight would have to take down Bob Tasca III to set up the clash.

With Todd needing to reach the semifinals to clinch, the last-minute ladder jockeying definitely benefited Hight, who now controls his own destiny rather than being on the other side of the ladder watching it unfold. If they both get that far, he has the chance to personally stop Todd in what would be the matchup of the season. If that happens, Hight would still need to go on and win the event to pass Todd in the points to claim his third championship and become the first driver in more than 15 years to win it back to back.

Friday Funny Car qualifying leader Tommy Johnson Jr. wasn’t able to hold onto the pole for what would have been the fourth straight No. 1 qualifying spot for the John Collins-led Make-A-Wish team, but maybe that’s for the best. They didn’t reach the final round after any of those great qualifying efforts and got knocked out in round one in Charlotte.

“I wish we could get that handle on the car for Sunday, but I think we’re pretty close,” said Johnson. “I’m disappointed we didn’t get it down quick enough in the Countdown but I’m excited now because we have such a good car and if you can carry that on for next year, that would be great.”

One thing Johnson does have in his favor is his incredible success at this event. He’s been to the final round three straight years, with wins the last two.

“I don’t know why I do so well at this event,” he said. “I think it might be because I’ve been coming here for so long and it feels comfortable, but it doesn’t relate to the Winternationals [where he has just one win, way back in 2005 while driving for Don Prudhomme]. You have this much success at a track and you’re just that confident. I wish I could put my finger on it exactly,

“It just seems like every year we have a late-season charge so by the time we get here we’re doing really well. You come in here confident. We came in thinking, ‘I hope that they have the check ready’ because we’re ready to go.’ “

Ask Funny Car veteran Ron Capps what his favorite part of being a Funny Car driver is and you might be surprised. No, it’s not the adoration of the fans, or the burnout, or even the high-G launch.

“Here's what I love about driving a nitro Funny Car beyond, well, that it’s a nitro Funny Car.” He explained. “Leading up to the run is always my favorite part of the run. When I drove Top Fuel, the engine is behind you and you’re sitting up there just looking around and waiting for [a crewmember] to walk up and tell you to roll forward [to start the burnout]. With the Funny Car, you have your team all in front of you, and you’re tucked back in the car with this 11,000-horsepower Hemi in front of you and you get to watch them work. You hear them making decisions over the radio – ‘Take this off the clutch’ or ‘Add this’ and you’re watching it all happen and it’s like watching a battalion getting ready to go to battle. It’s so fun to watch that culmination and to be the guy who steps on the pedal.

Capps won’t be in the title fight this year, but he’s got his own observation about the J.R. Todd-Robert Hight battle that will play out.

“I’ve been there, been there a lot, and I think that J.R. has showed that he can handle the pressure. Robert’s been there in this actual situation a lot of times and J.R. hasn’t been here in Pomona on a Sunday morning with the shot to win the championship, so it’s going to be interesting. I know what they’re thinking. They just don’t want to hear anyone tell them, ‘You got this.’ It’s the last thing you want to hear. Anyway, I really believe J.R. has showed he’s got the stuff to withstand the pressure.”

The final race day of the season brings great matchups across the board in Pro Stock – and the final opportunity for racers to improve their average reaction times, elapsed times and success rates. No one cares more about that than turning on four win lights at the Auto Club NHRA Nationals, but it can’t hurt to take a look at the leaderboards ahead of the final Sunday of 2018.

Reaction Time Leaders(RT)(RL)
Tanner Gray.0230(2)
Erica Enders.0233(2)
Jeg Coughlin Jr..0267(1)
Deric Kramer.0272(6)
Vincent Nobile.0323(1)
Elapsed Time Leaders 
Erica Enders6.579
Jason Line6.579
Greg Anderson6.579
Jeg Coughlin Jr.6.582
Drew Skillman6.584
Success Rate Leaders (% runs quicker than 6.66 seconds)
Greg Anderson79.4
Bo Butner79.1
Jeg Coughlin Jr.78.9
Tanner Gray77.6
Erica Enders76.7

It’s worth noting newly crowned world champion Tanner Gray is sixth in e.t. average with a 6.585. As with any championship chase, it’s not a matter of being great at one thing it’s being very good at multiple things. Granted, being great at everything is preferable.

Tanner Gray gets to ring in his Pro Stock championship in special fashion. Gray will battle his father, Shane Gray, for the third time in a head-to-head matchup. This will be the final time the two will race, at least for now, in NHRA competition. 

Tanner has gotten the best of his dad in all three meetings, the last of which came on Father’s Day in Bristol in 2017. This race might come close to that one in terms of how special it is. If you’re a fan of big, smoky burnouts … well, you might want to turn out for the first round of Pro Stock. 

Gray qualified No. 6, good enough to lock up the championship in just his second year of racing. If he gets by his father in the first round, he’ll get to battle Erica Enders in the second round – giving fans one more taste of one of the best on track rivalries from the past two seasons. 

Shane Gray makes his 175th start with a 167-165 round record and with six wins. His son boasts 12 wins in 48 races and with a 97-35 round record. So … his dad still has him beat in total round wins and starts, we guess that’s something to hang his hat on. 

Drew Skillman is competing in his final Pro Stock race for the foreseeable future and hopes to cap off what has been a successful career with his first Wally of the season. It looks like he has the car to do it at the Auto Club NHRA Finals – so it’ll be up to the driver to fulfill his end of the bargain. 

“We’ve definitely got a car that can win,” said Skillman following his first round victory. “This is going to be my last race and we want to get out of here with a win.”

His last win came at the 2017 Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at his home track in Indianapolis. That, in a vacuum, isn’t a bad win to wrap up a career with. But that was 30 races ago and Skillman looked like a championship contender at the time. Skillman has looked like anything but in 2018, despite occasionally having a very good car at times. 

Skillman won his first-round matchup with the quickest pass of the session (6.515) – that’s only .005 second behind the quickest run of the entire weekend. He gets a shot at Greg Anderson, and lane choice, because his run was .01-second quicker. Now Skillman needs to do his job on the tree to get a meeting against pole-sitter Jeg Coughlin Jr. 

No pressure.

The final race day of the season in Pro Stock Motorcycle reveals some not-so-surprises statistically. Yes, Matt Smith and Eddie Krawiec have very quick motorcycles and Joey Gladstone remains one of the best leavers in the category. But those who haven’t been paying attention to Angie Smith’s great bounce-back season may not have noticed she’s been No. 1 in reaction time average in 2018. 

That’s why we’re rolling out these stats to get everyone up to speed before the season officially wraps up with the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona.

Reaction Time Leaders(RT)(RL)
Angie Smith.02712
Karen Stoffer.03161
Joey Gladstone.03240
Jim Underdahl.03312
LE Tonglet.03371
Elapsed Time Leaders 
Matt Smith6.869
Eddie Krawiec6.871
Andrew Hines6.873
Hector Arana Jr.6.878
LE Tonglet6.888
Success Rate Leaders (% runs quicker than 7 seconds)
Eddie Krawiec93.1
LE Tonglet87.5
Andrew Hines83.8
Jerry Savoie81.9
Hector Arana Jr.80.4


It’s worth noting Matt Smith is just outside the success rate leaderboard with a 76.7 mark and he’s also been significantly better during the Countdown to the Championship. He boasts an 89.5 success rate and a 6.869 e.t. during the playoffs, which just might explain why he’s battling for his third Pro Stock Motorcycle championship. 

Hector Arana Jr. and LE Tonglet are huge fans of Chip Ellis and Hector Arana Sr. That’s because either Ellis or Arana will race Matt Smith in the second round, assuming he defeats Angie Smith in the first round Sunday. If Smith advances to the second round, the only way for Arana or Tonglet to win a Pro Stock Motorcycle championship is for him to lose and for them to win the whole race.

That’s admittedly a tall task, but it’s the hand the two have been dealt at the Auto Club NHRA Finals. Tonglet will face Ryan Oehler in the first round of eliminations coming from the No. 5 position, while Arana battles Freddie Camarena from the No. 2 position. 

The other racer still in championship contention, Eddie Krawiec, controls his own destiny. That’s because he can get his second-straight title by simply going one more round than Smith. The earliest the two can race is the final round because they’re qualified on opposite sides of the Pro Stock Motorcycle bracket. 

If they face off in the final, it will be the first time they have faced this season in an official NHRA race. They squared off against one another in the Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle in Sonoma, with Smith getting the victory. 

For Smith, the math is simple: Win the race and become the champion. In reality, all he needs to do is go the same number of rounds as Krawiec and he’ll become a champion for the third time in history. He wouldn’t mind doing it in dramatic fashion, though. After all, this is Rickie Smith’s son we’re talking about. 

“(Matt Smith) is going to get his birthday wish, but he’s going to have to wait until the final round to get it,” said Eddie Krawiec after advancing to the semifinals. 

Only Krawiec and Smith can raise the 2018 Pro Stock Motorcycle world championship trophy and the earliest the two can meet up is the final round. It is Smith’s birthday, as Krawiec alluded to – but don’t expect the Harley-Davidson rider to gift his rival a great present this year. If both racers reach the final, it will be a winner take all battle for a championship. 

Smith will clinch his third Pro Stock Motorcycle title if Krawiec loses to Hector Arana Jr. in the semi’s. Krawiec will win his second-straight title if Smith loses to LE Tonglet in the semi’s and the Harley-Davidson advances to his eighth final round of the season. 

Elite Performance rider Smith recovered in the second round by making a 6.795-second hit. He suffered an air-line break in the first stanza that kept him from shifting but had no problem getting to the quarter mile in the second round of action. He has lane choice, and a big e.t. advantage, over Tonglet in the semi’s. 

Krawiec made the best run of the round for the second-straight session (though only by .002 second), giving him the advantage against Arana, who slowed considerably in the second session. Still, don’t expect Krawiec to take Arana lightly – as he’ll be racing for lane choice, and to stay alive in the championship battle. After all, he’s got a birthday present to deliver. 


Championship Sunday kicked off, as it always does on the NHRA Mello Yello tour, with the SealMaster Track Walk, allowing fans to take a stroll down the historic Pomona quarter-mile.

Pre-race ceremonies included a chat with incoming points leaders Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) and J.R. Todd (Funny Car), who chatted with NHRA’s Brian Lohnes about their seasons and the day ahead.

The Auto Club’s Tom McKernan, right, acknowledged the upcoming retirement of NHRA Senior Vice President Graham Light with a throwback AAA road sign specially commissioned for Light’s home that marks the direction and distance to the Pomona racetrack, his former hometown of Edmonton, Alta., and his birthplace in England.

Another highlight of the pre-race activities was a Veteran’s Day flyover of a pair of vintage P51 fighter planes.

Rookie of the year finalist Bruce Litton pulled off a big upset in round one of Top Fuel when low qualifier Leah Pritchett smoked the tires and crossed the centerline.

J.R. Todd clinched his first career NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car championship on Robert Hight’s first-round loss.

Hight was one of the first to congratulate Todd at the finish line. Hight was angling for his third championship and second straight.

Comp winner David Rampy, center, was joined by wife Kelly and longtime crewman Barry Davis as they celebrated his milestone 100th national event victory.

The Rat Trap and Pure Hell Fuel Altereds entertained the fans with their wild antics prior to the final rounds.

Tanner Gray went out in style, winning the event and the Pro Stock championship. He'll turn his attention to other motorsports in 2019.

Matt Smith claimed his third career Pro Stock Motorcycle championship in a winner-take-all final round with Eddie Krawiec.

J.R. Todd not only won the event but also clinched his first Funny Car championship.

Todd's final-round win set off the team's traditional starting-line mosh pit, but this one was a bit more special

Steve Torrence completed an unprecedented Countdown sweep and was presented with a commemorative belt by the NHRA.

Your event -- and world champions -- from left, J.R. Todd, Tanner Gray, Matt Smith, and Steve Torrence.