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Tricky Tipster: Dallas favorites include Torrence, Hight, Gray, and Smith

Tricky Tipster picks Steve Torrence, Robert Hight, Tanner Gray, Matt Smith, and Mike Castellana as the pre-race favorites for the AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals
04 Oct 2018
NHRA National Dragster staff

Tricky Tipster arrives in Dallas brimming with confidence after correctly picking St. Louis winners Steve Torrence, Tanner Gray, and Matt Smith to win their respective divisions. Playing the hot hand, those three will also be favorites this weekend when the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series shifts to the historic Texas Motorplex for the AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals. Points leader Robert Hight remains the man to beat in Funny Car while Mike Castellana earns the top spot in Pro Mod following his record-setting 5.67 run in St. Louis



S_Torrence.jpgSteve Torrence
Capco Contractors

With two wins to start the Countdown, a big point lead, and a race in his home state of Texas, Steve Torrence could hardly have written a better script for this weekend’s race. As hard as it is to win three races in this day and age, the Capco car is in “do no wrong” mode right now and they’re going to be awfully tough to stop on their home turf.
Odds: 3-2

C_Millican.JPGClay Millican
Parts Plus/Great Clips

As frustrating as it is to start the Countdown with a semifinal and a runner-up and still lose ground in the points battle, the Stringer team can’t lose focus. They’re still very much alive in the battle for the Top Fuel title and if they can pick up even one round on Torrence, this weekend will be a huge success for them. Oh, and they’re also a safe bet to collect some qualifying points.
Odds: 4-1

T_Schumacher.JPGTony Schumacher
U.S. Army

He’s got six wins in seven final rounds here, so the message is that if you’re going to get to him, it had better be early. The Army car can still win the 2018 Top Fuel championship, but the clock is ticking. Anything less than a final round here would be a big disappointment, especially if Torrence and Millican go rounds. This is crunch time.
Odds: 4-1

L_Pritchett.JPGLeah Pritchett
Dodge/Pennzoil/Papa John’s

This could be a landmark event for Pritchett because she’s not only an obvious contender for the Top Fuel title, but also has a great shot of wrapping up the championship in the SAM Tech NHRA Factory Stock Showdown. She missed out on a double in St. Louis with a win in Factory Stock and a semifinal in Top Fuel but there’s a good chance she could better that here.
Odds: 5-1

B_Torrence.jpgBilly Torrence
Capco Contractors

The beauty of a blocker is that they can help in many ways. In this case, the second Capco car is gobbling up qualifying points that might otherwise help another team. Of course, this car and driver combination is also strong enough to win the race outright and crush the dreams of other Countdown hopefuls. An all-Capco final in the Lone Star State? Sounds too perfect but it could happen.
Odds: 7-1

B_Alexander.jpgBlake Alexander
Pronto Auto Service

Been to eight races this season and has 19 round wins. There are a handful of drivers in the Countdown who can’t match that pace. The most amazing thing about his 2018 season (other than two wins) is that he’s yet to suffer a round one loss. As we noted last time, this is not a guy you want to see on your side of the ladder come Saturday evening.
Odds: 8-1

A_Brown.JPGAntron Brown
Matco Tools

He’s won here twice since 2012 and could easily do so again but even with his recent success, there is clearly something amiss with the Matco car. Qualifying has been solid, and AB remains an elite driver but seven round one losses remains a problem. Last year, he had just one, and in his championship season of 2016, he had just two round one losses.
Odds: 10-1

M_Salinas.jpgMike Salinas
Scrappers Racing

His first full season in Top Fuel has had its share of ups and downs but clearly a lot of progress has been made. He’s managed to win at least one round at the last five races and with Alan Johnson’s tuning influence, the potential is there to become NHRA’s next first-time pro winner.
Odds: 13-1


R_Hight.JPGRobert Hight
Auto Club Chevy

Took a hard hit in the St. Louis final but there is no reason to think the Auto Club team won’t be fully ready to resume the fight this weekend in Dallas. He’s the defending event winner and also has victories here in 2006 and 2009 so the Texas Motorplex has been good to the Auto Club team.
Odds: 4-1

J_Todd.JPGJ.R. Todd
DHL Toyota

Even though he lost the points lead, there is no shame in opening the Countdown with a win and a semifinal finish. He’s just 30-points out of first place and if someone had told the DHL team back in February that they’d be in that spot with four events remaining, it’s a given that they’d have signed on the dotted line.
Odds: 5-1

T_Wilkerson.JPGTim Wilkerson
Levi, Ray & Shoup Mustang

It’s not where you start, but where you finish. That describes the Levi, Ray & Shoup team perfectly this season. Starting the Countdown in the No. 10 spot, Wilkerson has climbed to fourth and he’s got a genuine shot to win the championship. And, it wouldn’t be nearly as big of a miracle as people think if it were to happen. This team has talent and desire and that goes a lot way at this time of the year.
Odds: 6-1

R_Capps.JPGRon Capps
NAPA Dodge

Shrugging off a tough loss in St. Louis, it’s a new month so let’s see how “OctTobler” stacks up against “ProckTober”. He’s dropped to fifth place in the standings but there is still time to make a run at a second championship but there’s not much room for error. The NAPA team really needs to make the final round here.
Odds: 7-1

C_Force.JPGCourtney Force
Advance Auto Parts Chevy

Quarterfinal loss to Wilkerson in St. Louis was painful, but the damage could have been worse as far as the points are concerned. Now 70 markers out with four to go isn’t a bad spot to be in but gaining ground on leader Hight and second-ranked Wilkerson should be a priority this weekend. Oh, and she’s been the Queen of Qualifying points this year, which might be huge before this is all said and done.
Odds: 9-1

T_Johnson.JPGTommy Johnson Jr.
Make-A-Wish Dodge

Anyone notice the Make-A-Wish team has qualified in the top half of the field for every race since Norwalk and haven’t been beaten in the first round at any of them? Right now, this is the best car in the Schumacher fleet and just 104-points out of first place, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see them making a late-season run at the Mello Yello championship.
Odds: 10-1

M_Hagan.JPGMatt Hagan
Mopar Dodge

Back-to-back first rounds in Reading and St. Louis have all but crippled the Mopar team’s chances to win another championship but all hope isn’t lost. They need to find their way in a hurry but a couple of final rounds and they’re right back in it. Obviously, there is zero room for error right now. Dallas has also been good to them with two wins in three final rounds so this might be a good spot to make a move.
Odds: 11-1

J_Force.JPGJohn Force
Peak Chevy

His next win will be No. 150 and it’s extremely unlikely that anyone else will ever win that many NHRA events. One also has to take into consideration that he’s won seven times in Dallas and has appeared in 15 final rounds. He’s had a love-hate relationship with the Motorplex but when it’s good to him, it’s been very good.
Odds: 14-1


T_Gray.JPGTanner Gray
Gray Manufacturing Technologies Camaro

Okay, so the cat is out of the bag. He’s going to circle track racing next season but there is still much work to be done on the NHRA side. If he is to go out as a champion, this race is critical. A win here and he can put a near hammerlock on the title.  
Odds: 3-1

J_Coughlin.JPGJeg Coughlin Jr.
JEGS.com/Elite Camaro

He arguably had the best car in St. Louis and turned it into a semifinal finish, which was actually a bit of a disappointment. Right now, he’s 81-points out of first place which is a precarious spot to be in. He’s in the battle for the title (which would be his sixth in Pro Stock and seventh overall) but he can’t afford to yield anymore ground to the leaders. A win here would be huge.
Odds: 4-1

V_Nobile.JPGVincent Nobile
Mountain View Camaro

It isn’t an exaggeration to suggest that the Mountain View team is in the best position they’ve ever been in to deliver a world championship. A win and a semifinal in the first two events of the Countdown have them set up for a nice run down the stretch but they’d like to pick up at least one round one Gray this weekend. Easier said than done.
Odds: 5-1

D_Skillman.JPGDrew Skillman
Skillman Auto Camaro

Who is this guy and where did he come from? Winless so far this season in Pro Stock, he’s climbed to third place which makes him a legit title contender. He’s also got two wins in Stock Eliminator which may not seem like a big deal, but they are a great confidence booster for the last four Pro Stock races of the season.
Odds: 6-1

E_Enders.JPGErica Enders
Melling/Elite Camaro

If she wants to get back into the thickness of the points battle, it’s almost mandatory that she wins here. Fortunately, the Motorplex is in Texas which happens to be her beloved home state so that’s a big plus. Winning here in 2015 was easily one of the highlights of her career and one that the Elite team would desperately like to repeat.
Odds: 7-1

G_Anderson.JPGGreg Anderson
Summit Racing Camaro

For all of his success, he “only” has three wins here and the last one was in 2010. He’s qualified No. 7 and No. 8 at the last two races which means (usually) a tough second round match-up. A top five starting spot would likely make the road to the final much easier but in this field, that’s much easier said than done.
Odds: 8-1

B_Butner.JPGBo Butner
Butner Auto Camaro

Had a good car in St. Louis. Actually, it was a great car that qualified No. 4 but he didn’t get down the track in the quarterfinals against Skillman. That was a big blow as far as the points are concerned but on the plus side, it’s a clear sign that the reigning champ still has what it takes to win a race.
Odds: 10-1

J_Line.JPGJason Line
Summit Racing Equipment Camaro

The clock is ticking. He’s won at least one Pro Stock event every year since 2004 but is winless so far this season. There’s four chances left to break that streak and after a very solid qualifying performance in St. Louis, this might represent his best chance to get on the board.
Odds: 14-1


M_Smith.jpgMatt Smith
Smith Racing EBR

He didn’t qualify No. 1 or run over 200-mph, but by every other measure, his performance in St. Louis was a thorough butt-kicking. His EBR entry was quick and more importantly, it was reliable and if he can repeat that performance here, the rest of the field is in big trough as far as the fight for the championship is concerned.  
Odds: 3-1

L_Tonglet.jpgLE Tonglet
Nitro Fish Suzuki

He seemed dismayed that the V-twin bikes were quicker than his Suzuki in St. Louis and then went out and made it to the final round and actually outran eventual winner Matt Smith. Clearly, he doesn’t need to have the best bike in order to win the race. He’s a great rider who never feels pressure which likely means he’s in this fight for the long haul.
Odds: 4-1

E_Krawiec.jpgEddie Krawiec
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson

He needs another win in the worst way -- so the Texas Motorplex should be a welcome sight since he’s won here in three of the last five years including back-to-back wins in 2016-17. Krawiec has also been to the final round here five times. Obviously, he’ll be looking to keep a close eye on leaders Smith and Tonglet. Gaining even one round on either of them would be a big achievement when it comes to a title defense.
Odds: 5-1

H_Arana_Jr.jpgHector Arana Jr.
Lucas Oil EBR

A win in Reading followed by a frustrating round one loss in St. Louis when his bike never made it to the starting line. The damage in the points battle was significant, but not fatal. At times, this has been the best bike in the class and should he pull off a win here, all will be right with the world again. Possible we’ll also see another 200-mph run out of the Lucas Oil bike as well.
Odds: 7-1

A_Hines.jpgAndrew Hines
Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson

The bad news is that he’s fifth in the Mello Yello standings, which is not where he’s accustomed to being. The good news is that he’s just 62-points out of first place which is approximately three rounds which can easily be made up in four races. Much like Jason Line, it’s also a mystery how he could get so deep into the season without a victory. That should change soon.
Odds: 9-1

J_Savoie.jpgJerry Savoie
White Alligator Suzuki

The Texas Motorplex has been good to this Louisiana resident with a win in 2015 and a pair of runner-up finishes the last two seasons. He’ll need that sort of showing again to keep pace in the points battle. Right now, he needs to make up 109-points which would require a couple of big wins down the stretch.
Odds: 11-1

A_Smith.jpgAngie Smith
Denso Buell

She struggled a bit during qualifying in St. Louis and then this bike came roaring to life in eliminations. If she can carry a bit of that momentum over to Dallas, she’ll be in a position to do some damage. Of course, she’s also got a lot of value as a blocker for her hubby, who is the points leader.
Odds: 13-1

A_Sampey.jpgAngelle Sampey
Liberty Racing Buell

Early in her career, she went to back-to-back finals here but the Pro Stock Motorcycle class didn’t race often in Dallas. Regardless, she turned in a solid performance in St. Louis and is more than capable of making life rough on one of the championship contenders.
Odds: 15-1


M_Castellana.JPGMike Castellana
AAP Camaro

Predicting a winner in Pro Mod is almost pointless because you can throw a blanket over the whole field because they are so tightly bunched together. However, when you run 5.67 to set the record and take the No. 1 qualifying spot, you’ve probably earned Tipster’s blessing at the next event.
Odds: 3-1

R_Smith.jpgRickie Smith
Smith Racing Camaro

The points battle that was once going to be a runaway has suddenly become a street brawl with three-time champ Smith needing to make up 46-points in the last three races. With Rickie, nothing seems impossible so it’s hard to imagine he won’t go deep into eliminations to make this a true fight to the finish.
Odds: 4-1

M_Janis.JPGMike Janis
Jan-Cen Racing Camaro

Points leader with three to go; there’s no one in the field who wouldn’t gladly trade places with him. Then again, there’s bound to be a few sleepless nights while he looks to put the wraps on a season title in what could easily be defined as drag racing’s most competitive class. A fine showing here would be solid gold.
Odds: 5-1

S_Jackson.JPGSteve Jackson
Bahrain1 Camaro

He wins the last two events and still gets ranked fourth by Tipster? What are we thinking? Honestly, he could be first or fourth or even eighth. The difference is microscopic since everyone in the top ten can run 5.7s at will. Winning three-straight in this class is virtually impossible, but we’re sure Stevie Fast is up to the challenge.
Odds: 6-1

C_Green.jpgChad Green
Bond Coat Corvette

There is no rule that says Texans should win any event in their home state but there is a comfort in playing a home game so that might be worth a bit in the grand scheme of things. Regardless of where we’re racing, the Bond Coat team has been impressive this year and it’s fair to say they’re overdue for a first NHRA Pro Mod victory.
Odds: 7-1

K_alBalooshi.jpgKhalid alBalooshi
Bahrain 1 Camaro

When did you ever thing you’d see a nitrous Pro Mod car run 5.72? That was one of many impressive runs from St. Louis but it was tempered by a round one loss on Sunday. If he can turn qualifying performance into consistent runs on race day, he could easily go the distance.  
Odds: 9-1

E_Enders.JPGErica Enders
Elite Motorsports Camaro

The two-time NHRA Pro Stock champ appears to be getting the hang of a 250-mph turbo Pro Mod. She not only qualified for the insanely quick St. Louis field, but also claimed her first round win. Oh, and she also went .009 on the Tree which shows that her lights aren’t exclusive to Pro Stock.
Odds: 11-1

R_Hord.jpgRick Hord
Maximum Effort Corvette

A 256-mph blast in St. Louis tells you all you need to know about the potential of this turbo entry. He also ran 5.72 to earn a top-half starting spot. All that’s left for the former Comp racer is to put together a few win lights on race day.
Odds: 14-1