This weekend the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series returns to Sonoma Raceway to mark the relaunch of professional drag racing in California. The NHRA Sonoma Nationals is the second race in the 2021 NHRA Western Swing campaign and the first of a two-race homecoming for drag racing in the Golden State where the NHRA was born 70 years ago.
Perched on the coast of the Pacific Ocean and nestled between California’s historic gold country and the city of San Francisco—for many Sonoma, Calif., is famed as wine country. For NHRA drag racing racers and fans, Sonoma is known for its world-class motorsport facility, record-setting speeds, and incredible fan experience.
After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this weekend's NHRA Sonoma Nationals also holds the distinction as the track’s first full-capacity event of 2021. And fans are coming in droves from all over the West Coast to cheer their heroes on. Tickets are selling at an incredible pace, and the campgrounds are near full capacity.
The traditional second stop of the 32-annual NHRA Wester Swing, the NHRA Sonoma Nationals is the second of a three-race trifecta where Top Fuel, Funny Car, and Pro Stock Motorcycle teams not only vie to win each event but also take on the famed challenge of ‘Sweeping the Swing” where racers look to find success three weekends in a row.
With just five races remaining before the Countdown to the Championship begins, Top Fuel’s Steve Torrence, Funny Car’s Matt Hagan, and Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Matt Smith will all have that goal in the back of their minds going into nighttime qualifying runs on Friday, two qualifying sessions on Saturday and Sunday’s finals.
Beyond just Sweeping the Swing, Steve Torrance's Capco Contractor's Top Fuel dragster looks to be on a solid pace to sweep the season once again. As the reigning three-time Top Fuel champion, he holds an ever-widening lead over his nearest rival and good friend, Antron Brown.
Torrance went on to the semifinals the last time NHRA raced here, losing to his father Billy Torrance, who won the race against Clay Millican. Elder Torrance will not be a threat at this year's race, but his winning run data from 2019 will undoubtedly be an asset to Steve. The three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion and four-time Sonoma event champion Antron Brown comes to California looking for a reset after Denver.
Brown says he's "Very excited to go back to Sonoma. There's always such a great crowd out there, the fans come from all over, you can feel the energy, and it's just such a great atmosphere. After our outing in Denver, our Matco Tools team is looking to get back on track and back to thriving. Brian Corradi, Mark Oswald, Brad Mason, all my crew guys, I can see that look in their eye. That look of hunger that says 'we're ready.' We're ready to go to Sonoma, not just to drink wine, we're ready to go there and eat."
While all drivers joke they come to NorCal for the local cuisine, it's the e.t.'s and trap speeds that they're after. Look for Brittany Force to bring the power to Friday night's qualifying session after her 3.71-second run in the night session at Denver. Add in David Grubnic's proven track record at Sonoma, and the Flav-R-Pac team will be the ones to watch in tonight's fuel session.
The Funny Car field offers an entirely different dynamic at Sonoma. The East Coast's Bob Tasa III comes into town with his Ford Mustang number one in the points, but California's own John Force is just 50 points back with his Camaro and looking to take Tasca's lead at every race.
Look for Sonoma to favor John Force Racing this weekend, where Robert Hight and Jimmy Prock 339-mph 2017 record run still stands to remind the competition Sonoma is practically JFR's home-track advantage. While JFR's Chevys battle it out with Tasca's Ford, Matt Hagan's Dodge comes into Sonoma off of its first win in Denver. It's Ford vs. Dodge vs. Chevy—just as it should be.
Fans will see a classic Funny Car crew chief battle in tonight's qualifying sessions as Jimmy Prock and Dickie Venables tune their cars to capitalize on the sea-level atmospheric conditions anticipated tonight.
Pro Stock's return to Sonoma (without a Denver pitstop) means their 500-cid DRCE big-blocks are going from good air—to great air— without the altitude sickness they've had to endure at Bandimere. Many teams will be swinging for the fences with tonight's atmospheric conditions on tap, and fans will want to watch whether the right strategy is restraint or radical.
Greg Anderson returns to California as the Pro Stock championship points leader with a strong record of success in Sonoma Raceway. This is the Norwalk car with more power potential and enough traction to put on a great show for the fans.
Expect Erica Enders' Camaro to come to the track set on "Demolish." Shockingly, she's never been to the final in Sonoma, but coming off her win in Norwalk, look for her to be as lethal as ever as the top-end of the track. If there was ever a year for her to rewrite her Pro Stock history, this is it.
If it seems our expectations are favoring harnessing horsepower over reaction time, you're right. Anderson and Enders look to be the heavy hitters of their respective engine builders, but we'll have to see after qualifying if the ladder racks up along engine-builder party lines.
For the first time in Pro Stock Motorcycle history, a rider has the chance to sweep the swing. The difference in power coming from Denver to Sonoma on a bike is enormous, with the rev-gain and trap speeds each rider experience today vs. Sunday in Colorado requiring their complete attention. Be sure to watch the riders at the top end of the track and catch their breath before the interview.
Matt Smith is a solid contender to be the first Swing Sweeper. He's got the power, the finesse, and the team architecture to execute three wins in a row. Who can stop him? Vance & Hines—but it won't be easy.
Andrew Hines has three wins here, including the last time NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle raced in Sonoma. Hines and Eddie Krawiec are used to battling Smith at Sonoma, and the qualifying sessions will prove old rivalries make for entertaining racing.
Steve Johnson's newfound success and continued discipline also put him in the pipeline for a solid qualifying that might lead to victory on Sunday.
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Saturday, July 24, FS1 will televise qualifying coverage from 2 to 3:30 p.m. (ET)
Sunday, July 25, FS1 will televise qualifying coverage from 3 to 4 p.m. (ET)
Sunday, July 25, FS1 will televise final eliminations from 4 to 7 p.m. (ET)