Tricky Tipster: Steve Torrence, Courtney Force, and Tanner Gray lead Epping picks

Steve Torrence, Courtney Force, and Tanner Gray, who have combined for 10 wins during the first half of the season, enter this weekend’s NHRA New England Nationals as the favorites.
05 Jul 2018
NHRA National Dragster staff

The first half of the 2018 season proved that NHRA fans can continue to expect the unexpected when it comes to the Mello Yello pro classes. Through 12 events, there have been nine winners in Pro Stock and seven in Top Fuel and Funny Car, respectively. Steve Torrence, Courtney Force, and Tanner Gray, who have combined for 10 wins during the first half of the season, enter this weekend’s NHRA New England Nationals as the favorites.



S_Torrence.jpgSteve Torrence
Capco Contractors

The Capco team hasn’t won here yet but that could easily change this time around. He was a runner-up here in 2016 so that should count for something. Semi’s or better in six of the last seven races.
Odds: 3-1

T_Schumacher.JPGTony Schumacher
U.S. Army

Quickly checked this race off his to-do list with back-to-back wins in 2014-15. The Army team has struggled at times in the first half of the season but appears poised for a monster second half.
Odds: 4-1

T_McMillen.jpgTerry McMillen
Amalie Motor Oil

This week’s big mover thanks to four final rounds in the last eight races. While he’s still looking for his first win of the season, this has become a car that no one wants to face in eliminations.
Odds: 6-1


D_Kalitta.JPGDoug Kalitta
Mac Tools

Generally the most consistent car/driver combo in the class. Coming off a rare round one loss in Norwalk but we’re going to consider that an anomaly. Surely, the Mac team will have a better effort here.
Odds: 7-1

C_Millican.JPGClay Millican
Parts Plus/Great Clips

Hard to imagine crew chief Dave Grubnic is a big Frank Sinatra fan but if you’re looking for someone who personifies the whole “I did it my way” thing, he’s your guy. This car has been the surprise of the season so far.

L_Pritchett.JPGLeah Pritchett
Papa John’s Pizza/Pennzoil

Maybe a bit of a hunch here but the Papa John’s car seems to be a bit better than it was a few races ago. There has never been a time when this car wasn’t competitive, but at times they’ve shown the ability to be dominant.
Odds: 10-1

B_Force.JPGBrittany Force
Monster Energy

The four-race Eastern Swing was nothing less than a disaster with four-straight round one losses but all hope is not lost in the Monster camps. This is still a great car with the reigning Mello Yello champion behind the wheel. Oh, and she’s also the defending champion of this event.
Odds: 12-1

A_Brown.JPGAntron Brown
Matco Tools

Tricky Tipster has an old saying that goes, “I’d rater be great in the second 12 races than the first 12.” That should apply for everyone, but for a team that has not yet been to a final and has six round one losses, it represents hope for the future.
Odds: 14-1


C_Force.JPGCourtney Force
Advance Auto Parts Chevy

She won the first race here in 2013 and was a runner-up here last year. Oh, and this is still the best running car in the class. Almost a given she qualifies No. 1, and another clean sweep on Sunday would not be surprising.
Odds: 3-1

R_Capps.JPGRon Capps
NAPA Dodge

Much like Courtney, he’s had some success here with a pair if wins in 2014 and 2016. Also qualified exceptionally well in three of the last four races which tends to set up a long day on Sunday.
Odds: 7-2

M_Hagan.JPGMatt Hagan
Mopar Dodge

Last week’s win in Norwalk was, among other things, a big confidence booster and set up a perfect scenario where a driver is coming off a big win is heading to a track where he/she is the defending champion. That’s usually a recipe for continued success.
Odds: 5-1

R_Hight.JPGRobert Hight
Auto Club Chevy

Tailed off a bit since brilliant Chicago drive but still perhaps the second-most competitive car in the class. Needs a good showing to keep points leaders within striking distance with Western Swing looming.
Odds: 6-1

J_Todd.JPGJ.R. Todd
DHL Toyota

Finished the four-race Eastern Swing with a flourish with three-straight semifinals in Richmond, Bristol, and Norwalk. Will be interesting to see if that trend continues in what should be cooler weather conditions.
Odds: 8-1

B_Tasca.jpgBob Tasca III
Motorcraft Quick Lane Ford

Grew up at New England Dragway so a win here would be extremely meaningful and he just happens to have a car that seems capable of just that. This car could easily have a monster second-half of the season.
Odds: 9-1

J_Beckman.JPGJack Beckman
Infinite Hero Dodge

As a whole, the Schumacher Racing Funny Cars had a tough start to the 2018 season but things have been looking up lately. Ironically, “Fast Jack” has only been past the semi’s twice so far this year but that hasn’t stopped him from challenging for the points lead so things are clearly not as bad as they might seem.
Odds: 10-1

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

Not to belabor the point, but qualifying is key in today’s Funny Car class and anything outside the top six generally makes for a tough road on Sunday. That’s where the Make-A-Wish team has struggled this season. Fix that, and watch the round wins flow.
Odds: 13-1


T_Gray.JPGTanner Gray
Gray Manufacturing Technologies Camaro

Did a great job just getting to the final in Norwalk and then delivered the knock-out blow with a .008 light. This won’t be news to anyone but this kid is good and he’s only going to get better.
Odds: 3-1

J_Coughlin.JPGJeg Coughlin Jr. Camaro

Suffered a tough loss in Norwalk against teammate Erica Enders but also took the pole during “one shot” qualifying. As long as the power is there, he’s more than capable of taking care of the rest of the details.
Odds: 4-1

G_Anderson.JPGGreg Anderson
Summit Racing Camaro

It would be hard to imagine that he’s anymore hungry for a win than he has been so far this season but maybe losing the points lead will reveal a tiny bit of extra motivation to finally turn on the win light in a final round.  
Odds: 5-1


E_Enders.JPGErica Enders
Melling/Elite Camaro

We’re sure that .048 light in the Norwalk final didn’t sit well with the two-time champ and after a full week to stew over it, we’re sure she’s going to take it out one whoever is in the other lane on Sunday in Epping. Be shocked if she has a light worse than .025 this week.
Odds: 6-1

D_Skillman.JPGDrew Skillman
Skillman Auto Camaro

Got the same power as Tanner Gray so that means he can more than hold his own against a very competitive field. Closed out the Eastern Swing with three-straight semifinals, which bodes well for the next month or so.
Odds: 7-1

V_Nobile.JPGVincent Nobile
Mountain View Camaro

Atlanta win seems like a long time ago, but it was in fact just two months ago. Since then, the Mountain View team have struggled to make the late rounds but there’s zero reason to think they won’t or can’t go the distance here.
Odds: 9-1

B_Butner.JPGBo Butner
Butner Auto Camaro

Bristol was tough and Norwalk was a huge improvement with a strong qualifying run and a semifinal showing on Sunday. That could prove to be a big turning point in the season for the defending Mello Yello champion.
Odds: 11-1

C_McGaha.JPGChris McGaha
Harlow Sammons Camaro

Got to figure that he needed the recent off-weekend as much as any racer in the class. Don’t be surprised if he shows up in Epping with a renewed attitude and a quicker race car.
Odds: 13-1