NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Torrence, Wilkerson return to winner's circle; Herrera's domination continues

Four-time Top Fuel champ Steve Torrence broke his 2023 win drought, Tim Wilkerson won in Funny Car for the fourth time in Seattle, and Gaige Herrera won for the fifth time in seven starts this season to highlight an action-packed final day of racing at the Flav-R-Pac NHRA Northwest Nationals.
23 Jul 2023
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
Race coverage
Seattle winners

Four-time Top Fuel champ Steve Torrence broke his 2023 win drought, Tim Wilkerson won in Funny Car for the fourth time in Seattle, and Gaige Herrera won for the fifth time in seven starts this season to highlight an action-packed final day of racing at the Flav-R-Pac NHRA Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways outside of Seattle.

Torrence took the points lead away from Justin Ashley with his final-round victory over Doug Kalitta with a tire-spinning 3.94 after Kalitta’s Mac Tools dragster broke traction a few hundred feet into the run. Torrence and the Capco team, winless since October 2022 in St. Louis, got their 54th career win and also grabbed the 200th win for Toyota and leads Ashley by just four points. The win also denied Kalitta his long-awaited 50th career win, a number he’s been stuck on since October 2020, also in St. Louis.

"When you go down through there you don't hear him and you don't know what's going on, so when it spins the tire, you just are on a wing and a prayer hoping that you can get caught," he added. "I did go through and look over and saw the [win] light come on and pretty emotional. My grandmother passed away in March. She was my biggest fan, so this win is for her."

After winning Saturday’s Mission Challenge, Torrence turned on another win light in a tough first-round battle with Josh Hart, 3.73 to 3.75, then ripped off a 3.75 after world champ Brittany Force lost traction in her Flav-R-Pac dragster. Torrence reached the final, the 84th of his Top Fuel career, in a tire-hazing battle with Kalitta teammate Shawn Langdon, 4.01 to 4.07. 

"It's a great feeling to just kind of a monkey off your back, a sense of accomplishment," he said. "We've had such a dominant race car, and I think you can kind of get a little complacent and a little, you know, like winning is a norm. And it's really not and never should be. But the performance today, I'll tell you, two rounds were stellar and two rounds weren't that stellar, and so you got to be confident.

Kalitta opened his Sunday account with a victory over Ron Smith with his best pass of the weekend with a 3.75, which earned him a semifinal bye due to the 13-car field. Kalitta’s Mac Tools team tried to put some more power to the racetrack heading into the semifinals but smoked the tires at midtrack and coasted to a 4.97. In a semifinal rematch of the Mile-High Nationals final, Clay Millican left early and red-lighted to send Kalitta to his 109th career final.

Wilkerson, who won the Northwest Nationals Funny Car title three straight years (2009-11), got the Scag Power Equipment Ford back to the Pacific Raceways winner’s circle after eking out a tight win over J.R. Todd, 4.00 to 4.01. It’s Wilkerson’s 25th career win, 24 of which have come with nitro in the tank, including earlier this season in Chicago.

"I accidentally went a little deep on J.R. in the final there or the thing probably would have run a [3].96," said Wilkerson. "But I'm very, very proud of my guys today. It's a hot day, man. We worked hard and had the same motor in the car all the way until the finals, and I'm pretty proud of that. We really had a great day."

Wilkerson started his day by ending Denver winner Matt Hagan’s bid for a Western Swing sweep with a 3.92, then took a wild win over reigning world champ Ron Capps with the first of three straight 4.00s to reach the semifinals for the first time since his win in Chicago. Wilkerson, who had only won one round in the last four races since that win, got the shot at another Washington win after defeating Blake Alexander in a tight 4.00 to 4.06 battle to reach his milestone 50th career Funny Car final round.

"I've had a couple of couple of rough three races here. You know, just hang in there. We've got that 24-Hour Rule:  24 hours after we win, lose or draw? Start over, Because you can't dwell on that stuff. It'll drive you crazy. We have a chance to win every weekend, in my opinion. It's just whether I mess it up or not. You know, I tell my kids that they work on the cars, 'Make me a problem every time; you make me the problem and we're never going to have an issue,' and I'm usually the problem. So people always ask me, 'Who do you race?' and I said me, I'm the enemy, not the other guy."

Todd, looking for his first win since Gainesville 2021, had to survive some real first-round drama as the remote starter on the DHL Toyota wouldn’t crank over the engine, and they were rescued by Matt Hagan’s team, who loaned them its starter. Todd made the most of it by running a stunning 3.90. Todd then got past Cruz Pedregon with a strong 3.96 that earned him semifinal lane choice over Chad Green, whom he then beat on a holeshot. 3.98 to 3.97, to reach his 43rd career final, 24 of which have come in Funny Car. It was Todd’s first final round since Gainesville earlier this season.

Herrera won for the fifth time this season in seven starts, in the process denying his Vance & Hines/Mission Foods Suzuki teammate Eddie Krawiec his milestone 50th career win. Herrera left first by four-hundredths then pulled away solidly to win, 6.80 to 6.84, to take the first-ever Pro Stock Motorcycle Wally at the Northwest Nationals and to keep alive his dream of a Western Swing sweep. No bike rider has ever swept the Swing. 

"That was probably one of my toughest finals," said Herrera. " You know, I raced Ed in the semi's, but when it's a final, it's totally different. Having to race the boss and one of the guys has helped me so much this season to be as good as I am, it's really overwhelming. I know he's shooting for his 50th and I held him back from that. 

After dominating qualifying and winning Saturday’s Mission Challenge, Herrera mowed eliminations to reach the final round for the sixth time this season, taking down red-lighting Lance Bonham to earn a second-round bye. The first-round win was not without drama as the team wounded its engine, and had to make a quick swap between rounds, then powered to an impressive 6.78 on the bye run. Herrera, the last racer with a chance to sweep the Western Swing, kept those hopes alive by outrunning Hector Arana Jr. in their semifinal battle, 6.82 to 6.85. 

"Unfortunately, we had a mechanical failure first round," he added. "It was either a broken rod or piston, which is pretty rare for these bikes. It happened right at the stripe so we had to rush backend that was our tightest turnaround time, and we ended up having to change motors and we ended up changing the rear tire as well. People say we're sandbagging a little bit, but that just goes to show we're pushing these bikes as far as we can because we always want to be on top."

Krawiec, who hadn’t been to a final round since last summer in Topeka, raced past over Ryan Oehler and, after three straight second-round losses coming into this event, Krawiec made it back to the semifinals after taking down rookie Chase Van Sant on a 6.82 to 6.86 decision. Krawiec’s path to his 92nd career final was made easier when world champ Matt Smith’s Suzuki wouldn’t fire for their semifinal battle.