ELIMINATION ROUND OVERVIEWS
TOP FUEL ROUND 1 (12:01 p.m.): The top four championship contenders; Steve Torrence, Clay Millican, Tony Schumacher, and Leah Pritchett, each survived a thrilling opening round at the NHRA Carolina Nationals. Torrence and Millican each encountered a problem that limited their performance, but each managed to escaped with wins against Kyle Wurtzel and Chris Karamesines, respectively. Schumacher had the quickest run of the event in his 3.699 to 3.736 win over teammate Antron Brown. Pritchett was also quick with a 3.707 in her Papa Johns/FireAde dragster. Dom Lagana also turned in an impressive performance with a career-best 3.716 in his win over Terry McMillen.
Round two pairings (lane choice first): Doug Kalitta vs. Mike Salinas; Leah Pritchett vs. Steve Torrence; Tony Schumacher vs. Clay Millican; Dom Lagana vs. Brittany Force
FUNNY CAR ROUND 1 (12:44 p.m.): Disaster struck for low qualifier Tommy Johnson Jr. when he smoked the tires in the first round and lost to No. 16 seed Dave Richards and could not recover. The loss effectively ends Johnson’s bid for the 2018 Mello Yello Funny Car title because points leaders Robert Hight, J.R. Todd, and Tim Wilkerson all advanced to the quarterfinals. Todd made the quickest run of the round with a 3.874 in his win over Jonnie Lindberg. Hight was also solid with a 3.877 to beat Jack Beckman’s 3.906. Ron Capps also moved into the second round after defeating Dale Creasy. Oddly enough, Capps previously had a losing record against Creasy but now has an even 4-4 mark. It was their first match-up since 2001.
Round two pairings (lane choice first): J.R. Todd vs. Cruz Pedregon; Matt Hagan vs. Tim Wilkerson; Robert Hight vs. Ron Capps; John Force vs. Dave Richards
PRO STOCK ROUND 1 (1:01 p.m.): Reports of Shane Tucker’s demise have apparently been exaggerated. Tucker, the No. 14 qualifier, did not make a run on Saturday after wounding an engine in his Auzmet Camaro but he made it to the starting line for his battle against low qualifier Drew Skillman. Tucker gave it his best shot, but Skillman was able to advance with a 6.522. Alex Laughlin turned in his best run of the event with a 6.505 in his win over Deric Kramer and he’ll have lane choice against points leader Tanner Gray, who defeated Alan Prusiensky. Championship contenders Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Vincent Nobile also moved into the quarterfinal round. Erica Enders made the best run of the event so far with a 6.493.
Round two pairings (lane choice first): Jeg Coughlin Jr. vs. Jason Line; Alex Laughlin vs. Tanner Gray; Erica Enders vs. Vincent Nobile; Drew Skillman vs. bye.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE ROUND 1 (1:18 p.m.): There is likely to be a new points leader in Pro Stock Motorcycle by the end of the day after incoming leader LE Tonglet lost his round one battle against Angelle Sampey. Tonglet was uncharacteristically late off the starting line and fell victim to Sampey’s 6.808. Reading winner Hector Arana Jr. also lost via a holeshot to Scotty Pollacheck. All three Harley-Davidson riders advanced including part-time rider Chip Ellis, who made the best run of the weekend with a 6.778 to beat Joey Gladstone.
Round two pairings (lane choice first): Chip Ellis vs. Angie Smith; Matt Smith vs. Scotty Pollacheck; Andrew Hines vs. Jerry Savoie; Angelle Sampey vs. Eddie Krawic
TOP FUEL ROUND 2 (p.m.): With the four leading contenders for the Mello Yello Top Fuel title all stuffed into the bottom half of the Charlotte eliminator bracket, it was inevitable that there’d be some movement in the points battle during the quarterfinal round. Incoming leader Steve Torrence ran his streak to 14-striaght rounds with a 3.71 win over Leah Pritchett, who smoked the tires. Tony Schumacher managed to keep pace with Torrence after a narrow 3.712 to 3.724 win against Clay Millican. The quickest pass of the round was turned in by Brittany Force, who earned lane choice for her semifinal battle against Mike Salinas with a 3.702.
Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Brittany Force vs. Mike Salinas; Tony Schumacher vs. Steve Torrence
FUNNY CAR ROUND 2 (2:20 p.m.): The points battle in Funny Car received a shake-up when Ron Capps took out points leader Robert Hight in the quarterfinals. Capps drove his NAPA Dodge to a 3.884 to hold off Hight, who wounded an engine and slowed to a 3.953 at just 285.23 mph. Hight’s loss opened the door for second-ranked J.R. Todd, who moved to the semi’s with a 3.91 win over Cruz Pedregon. Tim Wilkerson will also have a chance to make up ground after a surprising holeshot win over Matt Hagan. John Force also moved into the final four round with a 3.948 in his win over Dave Richards.
Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): J.R. Todd vs. John Force; Ron Capps vs. Tim Wilkerson
PRO STOCK ROUND 2 (2:30 p.m.): Tanner Gray extended his lead in the Pro Stock standings following a 6.563 to 6.524 holeshot win over Alex Laughlin in the quarterfinal round. Gray’s closest rival, Jeg Coughlin Jr., lost to Jason Line while third-ranked Vincent Nobile also dropped a close battle to teammate Erica Enders. Gray will face Enders in the semifinals while Line will face Drew Skillman, who shook the tires on his second bye run of the day.
Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Erica Enders vs. Tanner Gray; Jason Line vs. Drew Skillman
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE ROUND 2 (2:18 p.m.): The Pro Stock Motorcycle class continued to provide a lot of drama and excitement with close racing and a couple of upsets. Eddie Krawiec lost his chance to retake the points lead when he lost by .001-second to Angelle Sampey, 6.834 to 6.837. Andrew Hines also went out to 2016 world champ Jerry Savoie, who made his best run of the weekend with a 6.843. Chip Ellis and Matt Smith also advanced and Smith can take over the points lead with a semifinal win against Sampey.
Semifinal pairings (lane choice first): Angelle Sampey vs. Matt Smith; Chip Ellis vs. Jerry Savoie
TOP FUEL SEMIFINALS (3:24 p.m.): Steve Torrence’s win streak now stands at 15-straight rounds and he’s a step closer to his first Mello Yello Top Fuel championship after downing rival Tony Schumacher on a holeshot. Torrence got off the starting line first and held on for a 3.728 to 3.718 win against Schumacher’s U.S. Army dragster in a battle that was decided by just .007-second at the finish line. Torrence will try for a fourth-straight win when he takes on reigning champ Brittany Force in the final round. Force reached the final with a 3.708 win over Mike Salinas.
FUNNY CAR SEMIFINALS (3:32 p.m.): For the third time in four Countdown events, J.R. Todd will race in a final round. Todd used a 3.891 to defeat John Force’s 3.968 to pick up 20 points on incoming leader Robert Hight. Todd began the day 51 points out of first place. Todd will have lane choice against Ron Capps, who drove past Tim Wilkerson with a 3.903 to move into his 119th career final and the sixth of the season.
PRO STOCK SEMIFINALS (3:37 p.m.): Tanner Gray and Erica Enders, arguably the two best drivers currently racing in Pro Stock met in the semifinals and the result as predictable with a pair of telepathic reaction times. Gray got off the starting line first by .006-second, and held on for a 6.527 to 6.529 win. Gray extended his points lead by reaching his third-straight final round. Gray will give up lane choice to Jason Line, who made it to the final for the first time since Denver with a 6.527 to 6.547 win against low qualifier Drew Skillman.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE SEMIFINALS (3:41 p.m.): Matt Smith has retaken the points lead in Pro Stock Motorcycle after defeating Angelle Sampey in the semifinal round. Smith rode to a 6.864 to take the win any move past incoming leader LE Tonglet. Smith, set to appear in his 51st final, will take on Chip Ellis, who earned a spot in the final after Jerry Savoie’s White Alligator Suzuki shut off at half-track. Ellis will have lane choice after a 6.854 run.
LUCAS OIL DRAG RACING SERIES SPORTSMAN RESULTS:
TOP ALCOHOL DRAGSTER: Megan Meyer def. Joey Severance
TOP ALCOHOL FUNNY CAR: Sean Bellemeur def. Phil Burkart Jr.
COMP ELIMINATOR: Art Hodges def. Danny Holt
SUPER STOCK: Herbie Null def. Joe Lisa
STOCK: Terry Taylor def. Anthony Fetch
SUPER COMP: Corey Manuel def Tom Stalba Jr.
SUPER GAS: Joe Fisher def. Phil Smida
TOP SPORTSMAN: Ronnie Proctor def. Jackie Robison
TOP DRAGSTER: Anthony Bertozzi def. J.B. Strassweg
PRO MOD FINAL (4:38 p.m.): Former Comp racer Rick Hord, far lane, became the eighth different winner in the E3 Spark Plugs Pro Mod series after his final round win over Sidnei Frigo. The all-turbocharged battle went to low qualifier Hord, who ran a 5.706, 257.68 in his Maximum Effort Corvette to take the title.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE FINAL (4:41 p.m.): A red-light start by Chip Ellis allowed Matt Smith, near lane, to take his third Pro Stock Motorcycle victory of the season and build his points lead to 41 with two races remaining. Smith won for the third time this year and 21st time in his career. The final numbers showed Smith with a 6.830 on his Elite Performance EBR to a quicker 6.891 for Ellis’ Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson.
PRO STOCK FINAL (4:44 p.m.): Jason Line, far lane, picked up his milestone 50th win -- 48 in Pro Stock and two in Stock --by taking out runaway points leader Tanner Gray in the Charlotte final. Line, who now has at least one win in 15-consecutive seasons, left the starting line first and drove his Summit Camaro to a 6.531 to hold off Gray’s 6.534. Line has had extraordinary success at zMax Dragway with three prior wins in seven final round appearances.
FUNNY CAR FINAL (4:51 p.m.): Ron Capps, far lane, picked up his third win of the season and his 60th Funny Car win of his career with a dominant performance that included a 3.890, 331.20 win in the final round against championship contender J.R. Todd, who smoked the tires at half-track. Capps, who also won in Bristol and Seattle, defeated Todd, Robert Hight, and Tim Wilkerson, who entered the zMax event as the first, second, and fourth-ranked drivers in the standings.
TOP FUEL FINAL (4:55 p.m.): Steve Torrence’s rampage through the 2018 Countdown to the Championship continued in Charlotte with a fourth-straight win. After wins in Reading, St. Louis, and Dallas, Torrence, far lane, ran his win streak to 16-straight rounds, and extended his already massive lead, with a close 3.703 to 3.708 final round win over reigning champ Brittany Force in the final. The last driver to win four-straight races was Tony Schumacher, who accomplished the feat in 2008.
In what figures to be his last appearance of the year as a driver, Dom Lagana enjoyed a successful qualifying run behind the wheel of his family-owned Magic Dry Top Fuel dragster. Lagana earned a spot in the top half of the field and will have lane choice against Terry McMillen in Sunday’s opening round. As someone who is known to wear his emotion on his sleeve, Lagana doesn’t need to be reminded that he’s living out the dreams he’s had since childhood.
“I know how lucky I am to do what I do,” Lagana said. “I'm still working hard trying to get the most out of every run. It's worked out really well because we don't race a full-time schedule with our family car and Billy [Torrence] doesn't race a full-time schedule with the second CAPCO car so I make our schedules line up. Either way, I'm having fun and I know I'm where I belong.”
“That's why you never really see Billy and I entered at the same event,” Lagana said. “I feel like my No. 1 job is working on Billy's car, and I really enjoy racing with Billy and Steve and helping out on both of the CAPCO cars. Plus, I've learned a lot working over there. On top of it all, Billy is a racer's racer. He loves it so much. He wants to win, for sure, but he also makes sure we all have a good time. When our car is out, I'm still wrenching on it so I stay very involved either way. There's a good group of guys working on both cars. There are actually three full-time guys that work on Billy's car and stay with Billy's car even when he's not racing but most of the fly in guys come and help me on my car too. We're all close and that helps a lot.”
Lagana has raced in seven events this season and he’s able to keep pace with the full-time teams by using the data collected by Steve's car and the CatSpot Organic Cat Litter Top Fuel dragster of teammate Scott Palmer.
“I felt good heading into this race,” Lagana said. “We made a lot of strides at our last race in Reading. We posted some really good numbers in qualifying and now that we've had a couple of weeks off to prepare and service everything I feel like the car is the closest we've had all year.”
Steve Torrence will be gunning for his fourth straight Countdown win, a feat not accomplished in Top Fuel in the 11 prior seasons of the playoff format. Good pal Antron Brown won three straight (Charlotte, St. Louis, Reading) in 2015en route to his second of the three championships before being defeated in the semifinals at the fourth event (Dallas) by Richie Crampton after 14 straight round wins.
Torrence is at 12 straight and will try to go for a four-peat today from the No. 2 qualifying spot, but the points leader is taking nothing for granted.
“We know what can happen,” he said. “We know how quick you can go from hero to zero out here but these Capco guys, I can’t say enough about them. They’ve had my back all year and when you go up there knowing you can slap the biggest guy in the bar and probably come out unscathed, it makes you feel pretty good.
“You know, we’re here to take care of unfinished business just like we did last week in Dallas. We felt like we got robbed last year (losing the championship to Brittany Force on the final day of the season after a Dallas crash forced him into a backup car) and we’re doing everything we possibly can to not let that happen (again).
“We’re just going to continue to try to do the best job that we can and let the good Lord handle the rest, and that’s really taken the pressure off. We know that if we all do our jobs, we can win every round. That’s our mindset.”
Only Pro Stock racer Dave Connolly has won four straight Countdown events, scoring in Indy (when it was the Countdown opener), Memphis, Dallas, and Richmond in the first year of the Countdown in 2007. Connolly, who also had won the event in Reading that set the Countdown field for a string of five straight, did not win the championship that year because of a double points reset that was quickly abandoned for future Countdowns.
Courtney Force entered the Countdown to the Championship playoffs as the No. 1 seed after a strong four-win regular season in which her Brian Corradi-tuned Advance Auto Parts Camaro was the No. 1 qualified at 10 of the 18 events. There was every reason to think that she’d be joining her dad, 16-time world champ, and her sister reigning Top Fuel champ Brittany, as a family champion, but the playoffs have not been kind to the team with just one win in three events. They’ve slid from first place to fifth, 155 points behind points leader and teammate Robert Hight.
“We have to track down these gremlins,” Corradi explained. “We can’t keep scuffing pistons. We just have to find our stride over the next three races.. We would have [our first-round race in Dallas] if we wouldn’t have scuffed a piston. We know what the problem is and we are going to get it fixed. I am glad we will be racing this weekend.”
Force has always believed in her entire team, and despite the downturn on the championship roller coaster, she’s not about to change that.
“I don’t believe our championship chances are over by any means,” she insisted. “I actually feel pretty good our Advance Auto Parts TrueTimber Camaro was able to get down the track in the heat. We made our best run last Sunday when it mattered the most. It was one of the quickest runs of the first round unfortunately we were matched up against someone that ran a little better. We had to battle some issues in qualifying and we didn’t qualify where we wanted to. We are going into Charlotte looking to turn our luck around. We still have a shot at this championship we just have to keep our focus.
“I am really proud of this Advance Auto Parts team. They have been working incredibly hard. No one is hanging their heads over here. We had a great regular season and I think we can definitely finish strong over the next three races.”
Force will begin Sunday’s final eliminations from the No. 12 spot and will take on two-time world champ Cruz Pedregon in round one.
Jonnie Lindberg was missing at last weekend’s AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals in Dallas after team owner Jim Head had a prior commitment. The week off gave Lindberg extra time to stew on an embarrassing holeshot loss in the first round of the previous event in St. Louis. Lindberg was late off the starting line with a .123 light and his 3.952 wasn’t enough to get past Bob Tasca’s 3.999. Lindberg hates to lose any race, but a holeshot loss was particularly galling.
“We spent all summer trying to fix this car and we finally made a good run and I couldn’t cut a light to save myself. I was pretty upset about that,” said Lindberg. “No one wants to win more than me but Jim spends too much money and our crew works too hard for me to let them down like that. Not, after all wse’ve been through.”
As a preventative measure, Lindberg has begun to get serious about his driving. He’s started to work out more and has seen a chiropractor to address some lingering back issues. He’s also spent a few late nights using the full-sized practice Tree that sits in his shop in Brownsburg. In his return in Charlotte, Lindberg and Head once again had issues in qualifying, but made the field in the 13th spot with a 3.95 in the fourth qualifying session on Saturday.
“I hated that we didn’t get down the track on Friday, but we did get it figured out so I think we’ve got something to work with on Sunday,” said Lindberg. “Obviously we had that crash this year in Phoenix that was a big set-back and then we had to figure out the new track prep when that came along in Houston. We know we’re a better team than we’ve shown; I went to three finals last year. We just need to put everything together. I’d like to get some results before the end of the season.”
As the No. 13 qualifier, Lindberg will have a tough draw in the opening round when he faces current championship contender J.R. Todd. Lindberg and Todd have raced just once in side-by-side competition with Lindberg scoring his first-career professional round win over the DHL driver at the 2017 Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals.
The latest trend is nitro racing is a return to the five-disc clutch set-up and the latest driver to make the switch is Bob Tasca III. Tasca and crew chief Eric Lane put their five-disc set-up in their Mustang-bodied entry last week in Dallas and enjoyed one of their best races of the year. That success has continued at zMax Dragway, where Tasca made a pair of three-second runs on Saturday to land the No. 9 starting spot and a round one date with John Force.
“We know we can run with a six-disc but we just finally decided to cut the cord and not look back,” said Tasca. “We’ve made good runs with both set-ups, but this decision was entirely Eric’s. He’s the crew chief. It’s his job on the line. I never tell him what to do. He knows the five-disc pretty well and I think that’s where we’ll be the most competitive.”
Tasca doesn’t hide his disappointment in missing the Countdown to the Championship, but he remains bullish on the future of his team. He is also confident that his driving has never been better.
“I’ve won ten rounds this year and three of them have been by holeshot; imagine where we’d be if not for that,” said Tasca. “We’re not in the points but that doesn’t make us work any less hard. There is no quit in this team. We know that we’re capable of doing a lot more than we have done. This winter, we’ve got four new Mustang bodies to mount and I have no doubts that we’ll be a lot more competitive next season. We’ve still got work to do this year and that includes winning of the last three races, but I also see a lot of positives heading into next season.”
By qualifying No. 1 in the Pro Stock field, Drew Skillman found the drag racing equivalent of Willie Wonka’s Golden Ticket. Because there were just 14 Pro Stock cars entered in Charlotte, the low qualifier is scheduled to get a bye run in the quarterfinals, assuming they win the opening round. Skillman is all but guaranteed to win the first round because his scheduled opponent, Shane Tucker, broke an engine in his Auzmet Camaro and was apparently unable to repair the damage. Tucker did not take part in either of Saturday’s qualifying sessions. For Skillman, the unusual situation not only means that he’s going to get 40 points without a fight, but it also gives his Skillman Auto team two free shots at the race track to refine their set-up before facing an opponent in the semifinals.
“We sort of knew what was at stake when we saw the ladder and realized that there was a huge advantage to qualifying No. 1,” said Skillman, who won the last 14-car Pro Stock field in Denver in 2016, when he was also the low qualifier. “It’s huge to get a free ride into the semi’s. It takes the pressure off. We’re not really in a spot to compete for the championship but we’re trying to finish the season strong and this is a good time for our car to come together.”
While it seems likely that Tucker will not appear for tomorrow’s opening round, Skillman is taking nothing for granted. He is prepared for almost any eventuality.
“I have two plans for tomorrow, just in case Shane finds and engine and is there when we pull up,” said Skillman. “Either way, we plan to see what the track will take and to try and keep lane choice for each round. If we get two free runs, we’ll probably make one run in each lane just to see where we’re at. This track was really good today. when it’s cool outside, like it was today it is very fast. WE also test here a lot so we’re very comfortable. I’m sure that helped us in Q4 because it took whatever we threw at it.”
Angelle Sampey turned in another solid qualifying effort on her Liberty Racing Buell with a 6.853 best that was good for the No. 8 spot in what ultimately became the quickest field of the year. Her reward; a round one match-up against current points leader LE Tonglet, winner of two of the last four events including last week’s Dallas race.
“Yeah, tell me about it,” Sampey laughed as she looked at the ladder for Sunday’s final eliminations. “After the way we ran, you’d think I’d get a better draw than LE but it is what it is. Anymore, everyone is tough and if you want to win you’re going to have to beat all of them sooner or later. We just need to stay focused and do the best job we can and we can win.”
Sampey was both quick and consistent in Charlotte with runs of 6.909, 6.869, 6.890, and a 6.853 in the final session that was good enough to secure a top-half starting spot. She is just .05-second behind the pace set by leader Eddie Krawiec.
“We’ve qualified really well the last few races and we’re still on track to keep improving,” Sampey said. “Lane choice is going to be crucial tomorrow, as it is almost every raceday, and I feel really confident; having two days of great qualifying helps with that for sure.”
When Sampey stages against Tonglet, it will mark her 600th round of professional competition. She currently has a win loss record of 409-190 in her career, which began in 1996. This is her 236th NHRA Mello Yello Series race in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class.