It took a little extra time this weekend thanks to the dreaded “r” word, but when it’s been two years since fans got to watch NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series at beautiful Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park, what’s a few more hours?
Fans persevered through the rain to witness a thrilling and memorable Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, which laid the groundwork for what’s shaping up to be a spectacular summer on the dragstrip. Leaving Norwalk, we got a few indicators of what to expect before the Western Swing, and here’s five things we learned from the event:
CRUZ AND COLLINS ARE THE PERFECT PAIR
Cruz Pedregon talked repeatedly about patience, even as he talked glowingly about the potential of his team, which added a number of new members in the offseason, including standout crew chief John Collins.
He predicted it would take a half-dozen races or so for everything to start to click, and the two-time world champ looks downright prophetic after his triumph on Sunday in Norwalk. With Collins nailing the tuning for multiple weather conditions just during race day due to the multiple rain delays, Pedregon delivered on the starting line, too, posting holeshot victories in both the semifinals. Pedregon’s 11,000-hp Snap-on Tools Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat lived in the mid-3.90s, and the driver was on his game, too.
He also beat the likes of Robert Hight and points leader Bob Tasca III en route to his first win in more than three years, meaning this was no easy route to victory. It’s also the first time someone other than Tasca or John Force Racing won a race since J.R. Todd took the opener in March.
Pedregon has liked the look and feel of this team since the announcement was made, but the timing meant a lot had to be accomplished in a short period of time before Gainesville. The veteran had to temper initial expectations as everything came together, but there was no denying big possibilities were there.
It played out beautifully in Norwalk, and the top-end interview was as memorable as it gets and served as an incredible reminder of how important these races are to everyone. Watching Pedregon get emotional and embrace his daughter while holding the Wally was truly special.
TORRENCE’S UNCANNY ABILITY TO RISE TO THE OCCASION
Even this year, Steve Torrence has had to face challenges from a pretty impressive list of drivers. Whether it’s Top Fuel standouts like Antron Brown, Doug Kalitta, and Brittany Force, or newcomers like Josh Hart, Torrence has been able to outlast and overcome them all thus far.
Hart got him in Gainesville, but Torrence repaid the favor in Charlotte. Brown got him in Atlanta, but Torrence bounced back at the same Charlotte race, and he’s proven to be a total thorn in the side of Force, who fell to the three-time defending world champ for the second time this season in a final round.
This one was especially devastating for Force, who went 3.696 to shatter the track record in the semifinals and appeared set for her first win of the season. When it’s money time, though, it’s almost impossible to bet against Torrence. He had a great reaction time in the final round, beat her to the stripe in the finals, and continued to show an uncanny ability to rise to the occasion.
It’s remarkable the team is able to do it time and time again in a sport where failure usually comes a lot more often than success. Over what is now going on the fourth year, that’s proving not to be the case for Torrence. The incredible thing is how the group absorbs the blows from everyone’s best shot and keeps on ticking. Meanwhile, the opposition simply can’t keep for a prolonged time. Through a four-hour rain delay, Torrence wore down everyone on Sunday in Norwalk, sending an impressive list of Shawn Langdon, Leah Pruett, Austin Prock, and Force back to the trailer.
THE EE AND ANDERSON RIVALRY IS STILL AS GOOD AS IT GETS
We’ve also known the rivalry between Erica Enders and Greg Anderson was top-quality entertainment for fans. But Sunday in Norwalk reminded us it’s still there — and probably never going away — and it's still must-see television.
The best part is neither party will deny the rivalry between them. Enders fully recognized and discussed it after her remarkable .005 reaction time in the final round kept Anderson from making history.
The subplot was thick in theatrics, with Anderson trying to win at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park — a track near and dear to him — to earn win No. 97 and tie Warren Johnson for the most in class history. Enders denied him on a holeshot, and there was no point in denying how big that victory was for Enders and Elite Motorsports. In fact, the team embraced it, celebrating on the starting line and on the top end like they had just clinched a championship.
When it means that much and success comes against a longtime respected rival, that’s as good as it gets in drag racing, and we were lucky enough to witness it on Sunday in the Pro Stock final round.
Of course, there’s an interesting subplot as well, with Elite Motorsports denying Anderson in the final round at the past two races, getting its season on track in the process. While Anderson and KB Racing won four of the first five races in 2021, Elite has answered back with two straight wins, which means this rivalry isn’t going away anytime soon.
The class doesn’t race in Denver, but we’re excited to see how this all picks up again in Sonoma.
MATT SMITH CAN KEEP UP
Steve Johnson appeared to be in the process of leaving everyone in the dust a little by the end of the weekend. Coming off a Charlotte race, where he performed on a level not seen on a Suzuki before, Johnson was intent on replicating it in far warmer conditions.
He did it, too, making runs in the 6.70s, setting the track e.t. record and extending his streak of round-wins to seven in a row. But then Matt Smith showed up in the final, and he lowered the boom, which he has been known to do.
He bested Johnson’s track record with a 6.782 at 200.56 in the finals, picking up his second victory of the season and putting a potentially fun Smith-Johnson rivalry back in the spotlight. The two talented riders have had their previous dustups, and if that gets rekindled in the midst of a championship battle, we’ll have our popcorn ready to enjoy the show.
Johnson’s clearly not going away this year — and may be getting better — but Smith again cemented himself as the class of the category at the moment. As a brief aside, it was also good to see the bikes back after six weeks away, and they delivered with a fabulous show all weekend.
NORWALK ALWAYS DELIVERS A GREAT EXPERIENCE (RAIN AND ALL)
This isn’t new, but it was great to get a reminder after a year away that Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park is a prime destination as far as taking in or participating in a drag race. A huge number of cars were there, the fans turned out in droves, and it added up to an experience that is hard to replicate.
The facility is big on putting on a show, and everyone delivered this weekend. From track records, holeshot wins in the final round, and, heck, even a jet-powered semi-truck to close out Friday made this a truly triumphant return to Norwalk.