Before the first pair of Top Fuel dragsters had even done their burnouts, there was a lane swap in pair two as No. 3 qualifier Doug Kalitta elected to move his Mobil 1 dragster from the left lane to the right lane. The move may have backfired as Billy Torrence made a solid run in the left lane to turn on the win light, 3.726 to 3.772. Kalitta, who is sitting on 49 career wins, has won just a single elimination round this season and is in danger of falling out of the Top 10.
“We qualified third, and the car has been running well,” said Kalitta. ‘[Billy] Torrence just outran us. Everyone here is working their tails off this weekend but we’ve got work to do. We’ll just have to save it for next weekend in Charlotte but we’re really confident.”
Two pairs after Billy Torrence defeated Doug Kalitta, low qualifier Steve Torrence also exercised his option to swap lanes, moving from the right to the left for his scheduled race against Buddy Hull. The all-Texas battle went to Torrence with a strong 3.711, the quickest run of the round. Torrence lost in the opening round just once last year and has won at least one round at all five events this season.
Clay Millican and his Parts Plus team scored a round win in the left lane with a solid 3.754 after Antron Brown smoked the tires. The win was big for Millican’s new crew chief, Jim Oberhofer, who was a part of the late Scott Kalitta’s first Funny Car victory in Houston in 1989.
The craziest run of the round? That’s an easy one as rivals Shawn Langdon and Lean Pruett both smoked the tires early. Both drivers were able to get back on the throttle, although neither machine hooked up. Langdon appeared to be at a big disadvantage when his parachute deployed at half-track, but he managed to hold on for a 4.77 to 4.97 victory.
"I got a little lucky there because I didn't do a great job pedaling the car," Langdon said. "I was a little too aggressive getting back on the throttle but it just happened to work out and we got the win. We're starting to get things turned around here."
Robert Hight won his opening round battle against No. 15 qualifier Terry Haddock but it wasn’t as easy as it might have appeared. Haddock made a competitive run with a 4.07, but Hight, in his special edition AAA Texas Camaro, was more than ready for it with a 3.937. Crew chief Jimmy Prock noted that the team used all the data it gained from Saturday’s two warm weather qualifying sessions to formulate a plan for Sunday.
“Yesterday was warm and we struggled,” Prock said. “We got down there pretty far but didn’t make it all the way. We backed it off so we’re closer to where we need to be later today.
The best Funny Car race of the first round? Arguably, that was the battle between Cruz Pedregon and Paul Lee, which featured side-by-side three second runs. Lee, who recently made wholesale changed to his McLeod team, showed clear signs of progress with a 3.978, but Pedregon’s Snap-on Dodge was quicker with a 3.925 and turned on the win light. Pedregon has three previous Houston wins, including his championship season in 1992.
“Big Jim” Dunn, his son, Jon, and their crew had to change their flights back to California after driver Jim Campbell earned his first round win of the season against a tire-smoking Tim Wilkerson. Campbell didn’t exactly back into his 16th career round win as he wheeled the DiPinto entry to a solid 4.026. Last season, Campbell earned three round wins including a memorable upset of Robert Hight at the season-ending Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona.
For those keeping score, the No. 10, 11, 12, and 13 qualifiers in Funny Car all advanced to round two. Campbell was 12th quickest with a 4.034.
Alexis DeJoria found a tough way to lose a round when she bounced her Bandero Toyota off the retaining wall after the car smoked the tires in her opening round race against Bobby Bode. DeJoria, who was the sixth-quickest qualifier with a 3.910, quickly climbed from the car, and was naturally upset as she asessed the damage.
"I just tried a little too hard.," she said. "I'm really sorry to my guys and to the [Safety Safari] crew that has to clean this up. I'm just really mad right now. We have a lot of work to do before Charlotte next week. I think chassis is messed up. I trashed the car. I just missed it."
In order to bake a cake you’ve got to break a few eggs, advice that may or may not comfort Mason McGaha as he continues to pursue his first win in Pro Stock. McGaha has been deadly on the Christmas Tree lately, but he pushed a bit too hard and came up with a -.012 red-light in his opening round race against Bo Butner. To add insult to injury, Butner shook the tires and coasted to a 9.91 while McGaha recorded a solid 6.604.
For the second-straight race, Dallas Glenn didn’t get off the starting line after an air bottle malfunction in his RAD Torque Systems Camaro. The beneficiary of Glenn’s misfortune was two-time Houston winner Matt Hartford, who would have been tough to beat with a 6.607 in his Total Seal entry. Glenn also suffered a mechanical issue that prevented him from making a run in the final quad of the NHRA Four Wide Nationals in Las Vegas earlier this month.
Houston isn’t exactly a home event for Chris McGaha, who lives half a continent away in Odessa, Texas, but he’s still a native of the Lone Star State and naturally wants to win the final event here. McGaha moved a step closer to that goal when he scored a big victory against current points leader Aaron Stanfield. McGaha drove his Silver Bullet Camaro to a 6.628 to turn on the win light after Stanfield shook the tires. For McGaha, the win was a huge relief after his Harlow Sammons team changed engines on Saturday and came into eliminations with very little tuning data.
Not surprisingly, the quickest run of the round came from Erica Enders, who posted a 6.578 in her Melling/Elite Camaro. Enders didn’t exactly have a cakewalk as Cristian Cuadra made an extremely competitive run with a 6.587. Enders win, combined with a rare first round loss by teammate Aaron Stanfield, has given the four-time world champ the points lead in the Camping World NHRA Pro Stock standings.
Coming off a runner-up finish in Gainesville, Angie Smith had high hopes for Houston but her chances for a third career win were dashed when her Denso Buell experienced a transmission issue prior to her round one race against Chris Bostick. The transmission reportedly got stuck between gears and would not come un-stuck despite her crew’s best effort to repair the problem. Smith could only watched dejectedly from the starting line as Bostick rode to a 6.93 for the win.
“This sucks because we had such a good bike,” Smith said. “This is just racing but it’s a hard pill to swallow. We just need to get it fixed and head to Charlotte next week.
Does Karen Stoffer have the best bike in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class? Steve Johnson might have a different point of view, and he’s got a soldi argument after racing to low E.T. of the weekend in his round one win against Michael Ray. Johnson, who began racing in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class in the mid-1980s, made the best run of his long career with a 6.718 at 200.71 mph. Johnson has also been killing it off the starting line with very impressive 1.03-second elapsed times in the first sixty feet of the track.
The latest battle between two of Top Fuel’s rising stars went to Justin Ashley, who wheeled his Mike Green-tuned entry to a 3.792 to move to the semifinals after Austin Prock fouled by six-thousandths. Prockwas in the mix with a strong 3.803 effort. In addition to his win at the season-opener in Pomona, Ashley was also a semifinalist in Gainesville and came into Houston as the fourth-ranked driver in the tough Top Fuel class.
Ashley raced Prock two weeks ago in Las Vegas, and they also met in the Pomona final at the start of the season where Ashley squeezed out a narrow 3.69 to 3.71 victory to win his third national event title.
Billy Torrence made it to the semifnals in his second race of the season on what was essentially a free run after Clay Millican’s throttle cable broke in their quarterfinal match. Torrence was able to keep pace with the quickest cars in the field, posting a 3.799 in his Capco dragster. Earlier this weekend, Torrence also raced in Super Comp, but did not make it to Sunday’s late rounds.
Public service announcement; Underestimate Bobby Bode at your own peril. The second-generation driver and full-time college student, who turned 20-years old on Saturday at Houston Raceway Park, made it to the semifinals for the first time in his shot career with a solid 3.99 to 4.03 win against Cruz Pedregon in the quarterfinals.
Bode has raced in the first four events this season, but had yet to see a win light. Now he’s doubled his career total.
“It’s awesome to see him go to the semi’s,” said proud father, Bob Sr. “He’s finally got a race car that he can drive well.”
Either Bobby Bode or Chad Green will race in the final in Houston after Green upset three-time world champ Robert Hight in the quarterfinals. Hight’s Auto Club Camaro spun the tires and Green, whose Bond Coat entry is turned by Daniel Wilkerson, was there to take advantage of it with a 4.090. Green won’t have lane choice when he faces Bode, but the former Pro Mod driver isn’t the least bit concerned.
This has been a weekend of firsts for first-year Pro Stock racer Camrie Caruso, who has so far backed up her low qualifying effort with a pair of win lights on Sunday. Caruso beat Fernando Cuadra Sr. in round one and then stopped Bo Butner in round two after Butner got crossed up and hit a timing block off the starting line. Caruso later noted that her team had a pit area thrash between rounds after they discovered an undisclosed mechanical problem.
“I didn’t worry. I just trusted my guys and I trust my car,” said Caruso. “My guys are amazing. I hope we can just keep it up. I’m just happy that we’ve come for far for a team that was put together just 60 days before the first race of the season.”
Karen Stoffer ran her win streak to six-straight rounds to start the season, but it wasn’t without it’s fair share of adversity. Stoffer was side-by-side with Angelle Sampey’s Vance & Hines Suzuki, but she likely didn’t notice as she fought to keep her own bike in the center of the lane. The adventure continued into the shut down area when Stoffer’s bike went into what riders call a “tank-slapper”, gyrating violently from side-to-side. Stoffer has more than a quarter century of experience and she used most of it to keep the bike upright and advance to the semifinals with a 6.832 elapsed time. She’ll face reigning and five-time world champ Matt Smith next.
Five races into the season and there will be a repeat winner in Top Fuel as Brittany Force will take on Justin Ashley in the final of the NHRA SpringNationals. Force, the winner of the most recent event in Las Vegas, topped Billy Torrence, 3.84 to 3.92. Force also took over the points lead after Pomona winner Justin Ashley stopped reigning champ Steve Torrence in the other half of the semifinals. Ashley gained a slight lead at the start and maintained his lead against Steve Torrence, 3.76 to 3.77.
On paper, the Funny Car final might appear to be a mismatch when three-time world champion Matt Hagan takes on first-time finalist Bobby Bode. Hagan has been the class of the field on Sunday with a string of low 3.9-second runs including a 3.937 to beat J.R. Todd’s DHL Toyota. Bode, in just his 15th race as a professional, defeated Chad Green, 4.03 to 4.16.
In more than a half-century of Pro Stock racing there has never been an all-female final round, until now. No matter what happens, the final will be historic as four-time world champ Erica Enders faces off against newcomer Camrie Caruso. After qualifying No. 1, Caruso reached the final with a holeshot win against reigning champ Greg Anderson. Caruso left first with a .011 light and ran 6.60 to Anderson’s 6.57. In the other pair, Kyle Koretsky gained a very slight advantage over Enders on the starting line, .027 to .035, but Enders quickly made up the difference and rolled to a 6.59 to 6.63 victory.
Five-time world champion Matt Smith and veteran Steve Johnson will meet for the final Pro Stock Motorcycle title at Houston Raceway Park. Smith rode to his 65th final, and his first on a Suzuki, after low qualifier Karen Stoffer crossed the centerline. Johnson, the class’ most experienced rider, will be seeking the tenth win of his career after stopping Eddie Krawiec, 6.765 to 6.802. So far, Johnson has had the quickest bike in the field with a pair of 6.71-second runs that rank among the quickest in the history of the class.
LUCAS OIL SERIES SPORTSMAN FINALS
TOP ALCOHOL DRAGSTER
Joey Severance def. Julie Nataas
TOP ALCOHOL FUNNY CAR
Doug Gordon def. Bob McCosh
Greg Kamplain def. Mike DePalma
Harvey Emmons def. Brenda Grubbs
Jerry Emmons def. Brandon Bakies
Michael Holcombe def. Christopher Dodd
Keith Purvis def. Austin Williams
Chris LeBlanc def. Don Snow
TOP SPORTSMAN presented by Vortech Superchargers
Chris Arnold def. Darian Boesch
TOP DRAGSTER presented by Vortech Superchargers
Mark Jones def. Wayne Landry