The second race of the NHRA Countdown to the Championship is in the books. Read what the teams had to say following the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals.
After an unexpected first-round exit at the opening event in the Countdown to the Championship, Steve Torrence put his bid for a second straight Mello Yello Top Fuel title back on track even though he was upstaged by his dad, Billy, in the final round, just the third father-son final in NHRA Top Fuel history
“Just a great win for this Capco team. A lot of people already were writing us off after both our hot rods went out in the first round (in the Countdown opener at Reading, Pa.), but that’s racing. Things happen. What’s important is how you respond and these Capco boys didn’t miss a beat. We’re right back in it now, but I’m sure I’m gonna hear it from my dad on the way back home. We’re 1-1 in final rounds now (Billy was runner-up to Steve last June 9 at Topeka, Kan.) so I guess we’re gonna have to do this again sometime to break the tie.”
“First of all, I’ve got to thank the Good Lord for letting us be out here as a family doing what we love to do,” he said after the team’s 11th win in 20 races this year. “And I want to thank all the guys at Capco. We’ll be there at six o’clock in the morning ready to lay pipe.
‘To get to race Steve in the final was the goal. We came here and we watched how we qualified and (then) we did what we needed to do to stay on opposite sides of ladder and it came out good. It came out better for me, but it’s good to get one on the kid every now and then.”
Shawn Langdon defeated teammate J.R. Todd to score his second Funny Car win of the season and the third race in a row that a Kalitta Motorsports entry has won in either Funny Car or Top Fuel. Doug Kalitta, who won the U.S. Nationals, defeated teammate Richie Crampton, who won the Countdown opener at Maple Grove, in round one then lost in the second round but held onto his points lead.
“What at incredible day. Going through qualifying, we didn’t have a fast car, but we did have a consistent racecar. After Reading where we smoked the tires a lot and blew the tires off at the starting line, we kind of had to go in a conservative way. It put us behind in qualifying and we ended up qualifying tenth and didn’t give us a good draw in the first round with Tommy Johnson Jr. with a very, very tough car and not an ideal draw to open with. My crew chiefs told me ‘We’re going to get you close. We don’t know exactly what it’s going to do because we made a couple of changes from yesterday. We think it’s going to run well and we’re going to give you the best car we can’. Fortunately, it worked out and we got a holeshot win and gave the guys a little bit of confidence.”
“Looking at the ladder last night, I knew that if we were going to win or at least get to the final, we were going to have to work for it. That was probably the toughest ladder I have seen in a long time. You hate to go that far and not win. All in all, it was a good day for this DHL Toyota team and Kalitta Motorsports. We had both Camrys in the final, so it was a good day on the points, too.”
“That was a tough first round racing Richie. We would have loved to have raced him again in the final. We just need to work on our qualifying and stay away from each other. We held our ground in the points and still have the points lead. There are two races down and we still have the points lead. It has tightened up but we will be ready in Charlotte. This battle is going to come down to Pomona and we just want to be in that battle.”
“It was just an unfortunate day at the races. We didn’t qualify into a position where we could have raced someone other than our teammate in the first round. That wasn’t ideal. Then we just didn’t get the job done on race day. I think we just tried to run a little too good and we smoked the tires on our DHL Toyota dragster. Doug smoked the tires also and he was able to pedal his car and get the win. It was unfortunate, but at the end of the day, he’s the point leader and my teammate, so I’m happy for him. I’m looking forward to putting today behind me and getting to Charlotte to start fresh.”
John Force Racing
With his fourth semifinal finish of the season, Robert Hight recaptured the NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car points lead by 13 points. After a second-round loss, John Force sit behind Hight in second. In Top Fuel, Brittany Force, who was upset in round one, sits fourth with Advance Auto Parts and Austin Prock, who dropped a cylinder in round two, sits in eighth.
“The thing to focus on is that we got the points lead back. We’ve only trailed in points once this year and that was coming into this race. We’re back in the lead now. It’s a tough Funny Car class, one of the most competitive there’s ever been. “It’s a sponsor race so I wanted to get this AAA Missouri Chevy in the winner’s circle again, but the second-best thing would be to get them back the points lead. Luckily there are four races left. We qualified well, ran well except for that semifinal so I’m not worried. We’ll head to Charlotte and pick up those little points in qualifying and go rounds on Sunday, just keep picking away at this championship chase.”
“Well, I didn’t win the race but I didn’t get hurt that much either, I’m leaving here second where I was and that isn’t bad. Robert is in first, where he’s been all year. Being out here, it’s not just about me trying to win a championship, its about building teams. Robert and I in Funny Car, and Prock and Brittany in Top Fuel, we built four great teams. Three of us are leaving in the top four and Prock, he’s in the Countdown and he’ll move up. We’re all running for the championship and I’m just proud of my PEAK BlueDEF team this weekend. We’ll just see where it goes.”
“All in all, a good weekend; probably our best performance all year. I felt like we were the car to beat this weekend and we had a cylinder go out in the second round. I’m really proud of what this team did. We were running within a few hun (hundredths of a second) every time we got up on the starting line and we were leaving the starting line first, too. If we can keep that momentum up and catch a break and not make any mistakes, we’re going to be really tough to beat. We’re still in this deal. A lot of cars in front of us went out first round and we advanced to the second round. Even though we didn’t make it to the semifinals, overall not a bad points day and just proud of what this team has become.”
“Tough day out here in St. Louis with this Advance Auto Parts team. We qualified well, No. 4 and unfortunately got beat in the first round,” said Force, who leaves St. Louis fourth in points. “We had holes out 300 feet out and then threw the belt (at) 700 feet, so we were just coasting to the finish line and Pat Dakin got around us. It was a tough day for us, but we’re staying motivated and we’re still good in points and we can still beat this thing. We’ll be ready for Charlotte.”
Don Schumacher Racing
Leah Pritchett reached the semifinals and jumped up three positions in the points standings. Ron Capps lost in round two to Robert Hight while Matt Hagan was upset in round one by Jim Campbell. “Fast Jack” Beckman, who opened the Countdown two weeks ago with a triumph in Reading, lost in the first round, as did Tommy Johnson Jr.
“We definitely have a lot of momentum and that’s what we’re focusing on right now. It felt good to get two win lights. We picked up a couple of spots in the points and that’s what we’re focused on. We have a good hot rod and we keep opening up our possibilities just like Okuma stands for. Immediately after our semifinal loss, the amount of in-depth research to figure out how and why we had a malfunction that caused that loss was immense. We’re pushing really hard and that’s what the Countdown takes. We’ll regroup and focus on getting our hot rod back in the winner’s circle.”
“The interesting thing about this race was how many big-time Countdown match-ups there were early in the day. It’s going to be like that from here on out; this is playoff racing right now and everyone is on high alert. You can feel the energy in the staging lanes. It’s everything you’ve worked at all year long. We went out and ran great against Blake Alexander in the first round and then faced Robert Hight and (crew chief) Jimmy Prock in round two. That’s one of those ‘down to the finals at the last race of the season’ kind of match-ups. They’re a team we always get up for. We were out in front of Robert but the car just pulled the tires loose at about 400 feet. We just didn’t take enough power out of it. But we’ve got a heck of a hot rod so I’m excited about these next couple of races.”
“First round losses are always devastating. There are a lot of good cars out here in this class right now and we just have to get our stuff together. And do better. This team is better than that and we are better than we showed here today in St. Louis. We showed how good we were in qualifying, grabbing that No. 2 spot and went down the race track every run Friday and Saturday. What happened today was unexpected. I was glad it recovered and we pedaled it to the finish but it just wasn’t enough. It’s unfortunate. I apologize to our sponsors. I apologize to our fans. That’s just not the results we are accustomed to putting up. It’s crunch time. We have to do better. It’s just that simple.”
Tommy Johnson Jr
“These first two races of the Countdown have not gone the way we had hoped. The car had been off a little bit and then we got the car back and then I’m off, so we’ve all got to get on the same page and get the job done. It’s just frustrating, you never want to lose that way but we have a strong race car again, so we’ll go back and see if we can’t finish out the year strong.”
“We missed the beat here this weekend. We made it down the track two of four qualifying sessions and our car the last two races has been absolutely stellar. I don’t think by any means we were lost. I was very confident heading into race day. The bottom line is this one goes down as a holeshot loss and that was on me. Had my right foot been three-thousandths of a second quicker we wouldn’t be talking about this and heading into the next round and racking up points. I feel like I let the team down. I just needed to have a faster light. If you lose by a bunch you shrug your shoulders and look at data and go on. When you lose by two-thousandths of a second you second guess yourself a whole bunch. I think we’ve got to move past that and unload in Charlotte and get ready to win that one.”
Two-time Pro Stock world champ Erica Endersqualified No. 1 and raced to victory, defeating Matt Hartford in the final round. It gave Enders her first victory since her four-wide win in Charlotte last year, and putting the team in prime position to compete for another world title.
“We redeemed ourselves after our poor performance in Reading. I’m ready for the remaining four races. I put my money on us. It’s all come together at the right time. It feels like it’s been an eternity since we last won in 2018. We just continue to keep our heads down and working hard, and this definitely means a lot to our entire program. (The win) definitely gives us a lot more confidence. We’re less than a round of racing out of first,” Enders said. “There’s a lot of racing left and I’m excited about it. I’m very optimistic about it. We have worked tremendously hard and I think we’ve figured some stuff out.”
The Chicagoland native laid down a pass of 3.769 seconds at 329.75 mph, that speed being a personal best, in the first round of eliminations. Unfortunately, No. 3 qualifier Austin Prock was .02 seconds quicker than the Rust-Oleum Rocket and put Zizzo Racing on the truck after a solid weekend despite the loss.
"If you're going to lose, you should lose that way. The round of first round, I believe. Tight racing, good drivers, both with good reaction times, both having a good side-by-side run. Even Austin Prock said at the top end 'That'll be the one they'll talk about!' It was close." We accomplished most of what we wanted to accomplish here. That's important for our team. That's important for our team to sit idle in the wintertime feeling good about themselves.”
After an engine explosion decimated his Ford Mustang Funny Car body. Wilk and his team hunkered down and did the work, putting their car back together and won the first round before falling to Bob Tasca III.
"It wasn't supposed to go that slow second round. It was a little too slow leaving, and it just never caught up. We're still learning all of our new processes – I'm changing things all the time trying to get to where I want to be. But the ol' girl acted like it was supposed to today. I was pretty proud of it. Everybody did what they were supposed to do. It's really good magic when it's all right. Just catching up to that racetrack was the problem all weekend long."
"Hats off to the guys and the whole LRS Summit Racing team," said team member and Wilkerson's right-hand man Richard Hartman. "Tim Wilkerson, he's such a badass. We worked hard, but we knew what to do and why it did it. That was a heck of a run – it's what it's been trying to do all weekend, and it finally did it."