Brittany Force and Robert Hight collected a nitro double for John Force Racing, and Matt Smith scored an important win in Pro Stock Motorcycle to cap a long, wild, and record-breaking weekend of racing at the Virginia NHRA Nationals at Virginia Motorsports Park.
Force won for the third time this season to extend her Top Fuel points lead, winning an exciting wheel-to-wheel contest with world champ Steve Torrence, 3.770 to 3.781, to notch her 14th career win -- matching the Top Fuel totals accumulated by Don "the Snake" Prudhomme and Gary Ormsby -- and her first for sponsor Flav-R-Pac.
Force, who won the Las Vegas Four-Wide Nationals and the SpringNationals in Houston back-to-back, raced her way to her 30th final round from the No. 1 spot, the 34th time she’s started from pole position. Force and crew chief David Grubnic had the advantage of a first-round bye for a test pass and smoked the tires immediately, but Grubnic corrected and tuned the Flav-R-Pac machine to runs of 3.78 and 3.77 to defeat Shawn Langdon and second-place Mike Salinas to extend her points lead.
“This is our best season yet,” she said. “To already have three wins under our belt is something we've never done before, and it's pretty cool to do it out here at Virginia. I've never won here before.
“No. 1 qualifiers, they've never seem to do well for us, so you have that in the back of your head, and then first round when we blow the tires off the thing I was not feeling confident about the rest of the day but Grubnic turned that car around, and we were consistent, .77, .78, and .77 in the final.”
Torrence -- winless since his victory at the 2021-ending Auto Club Finals in Pomona, his longest drought since mid-2019, when he went seven races without a win -- qualified his Richard Hogan-wrenched Capco Contractors rail in the No. 3 spot and defeated Scott Palmer in round one with a 3.77, then escaped a tire-hazing 4.40 in round two to defeat Top Fuel’s all-time winner, Tony Schumacher. the team corrected that misstep in the semifinals where a solid 3.80 got them past tire-smoking Austin Prock, the No. 2 qualifier, and into his 78th career Top Fuel final. Torrence had won the two most recent Virginia Nationals titles, in 2018 and 2019, before a two-year break due to the pandemic.
The Funny Car final pitted a pair of three-time world champions in Hight and No. 1 qualifier Matt Hagan, both of whom entered the event with two wins in the season’s first six races. Hight powered his way to the victory, the 56th of his career, on a 3.90 to 3.94 count.
“I think we've had like three battles already this year with Hagen, and it's just going to happen every week,” said Hight. “I think we have the two best cars, and it's when you race those guys, you better be up for it. They were better than us in qualifying, but what a difference a day makes
“This was a tricky track for a lot of people. In qualifying, it was very cool, , under 100 degrees every run, and today was not the case, and we had a hot race track, and my team navigated and dealt with it better than everybody else.”
Hight’s Jimmy Prock-prepared Auto Club Chevy struggled a bit in qualifying, ranking just 10th with a 4.01 best, but came to life on raceday with consecutive runs of 3.91, 3.93, and 3.90 to defeat Tim Wilkerson, world champ Ron Capps, and Bob Tasca III to reach his 88th career final round.
Hagan, making his 300th career start in the class, began eliminations from the No. 1 qualifying spot and had a solid day leading up to the final as crew chief Dickie Venables tuned the Smithfield Dodge to passes of 3.96, 3.96, and 3.95, the first on a bye run and the last two to defeat Cruz Pedregon and red-lighting John Force to reach his 76th career final round.
Smith’s victory gave the team a huge boost, beating points leader Steve Johnson after the two had waged war on the internet following Johnson’s final-round victory over him in Houston. Smith grabbed a six-hundredths holeshot on Johnson and hung on for a 6.842 to 6.786 victory by just .005-second.
The victory was Smith’s 33rd, tying him with the late, great three-time world champion John Myers for fifth all-time in class victories, and his first aboard a Suzuki. The win also moved him into fourth place in points.
"Winning on a Suzuki been a goal of mine," admitted Smith. "I went to four or five finals on a Suzuki early in my career, and I never get to close the deal, and then the V- twins came along and I've won one on a Buell, I've won on an EBR, and I've won on a Victory, and now I won on a Suzuki.
"Steve's been out here a long time and everybody knows what he likes to do. He likes to stage first and likes to start last. He had the better bike and I had nothing to lose, so I made him start his bike first and in and I went with the intention to stage first. I knew he loves the stage first so I rolled in and double-bulbed him and it was game on."
Smith, who only made one qualifying run –- he lost his second attempt to an electrical gremlin and the third session was canceled due to unsafe racing conditions –- but he rebounded nicely in eliminations, running 6.87 and a pair of 6.86s en route to trailering Chris Bostick, Jimmy Underdahl, and Eddie Krawiec.
Johnson entered the event as the hottest racer on the tour after back-to-back wins in Houston and the Charlotte four-wide event and extended his points lead with another solid outing on his Tull Plumbing Suzuki. Johnson, whose only loss this season had been to Angie Smith in round two of the season-opening Gatornationals, ran his win streak to 10 rounds by setting down Lance Bonham, Karen Stoffer, and popular longshot Marc Ingwersen with a blitz of 6.8-second runs.