Jerry Bonkowski

Photo courtesy John Force Racing

How much higher — and faster — can NHRA Funny Car driver Robert Hight go?

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At the rate he’s been going, Robert Hight is going to keep going higher and higher.

During the week, Hight is the President of John Force Racing (and son-in-law of the legendary drag racer). On weekends, Hight transforms into one of JFR’s three Funny Car drivers.

But he’s been standing out above the rest of the NHRA Funny Car crowd of late – boy, has he ever.

As the NHRA heads to Minnesota for this weekend’s Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway, Hight has been hotter than the flames that shoot out of the exhaust pipes on his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro.

He captured two of the last three NHRA national events – also known as the Western Swing – at Denver and Seattle (and reached the quarterfinals at Sonoma).

Robert Hight

And during last week’s off-weekend from the NHRA 24-race schedule, Hight kept his hot hand … err, foot … going, winning the Night Under Fire match race at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio.

“When you’re on roll like we’ve been on and the car’s running so well, this is what you want,” Hight said in a media release. “Even though last week was a match race, we still got the win, and we ran great.

“You don’t want this to ever end. It’s going to at some point, but we want to roll into Brainerd and get right back in there.”

If Hight’s good fortune continues at Brainerd, the next race on the schedule is the biggest race of the year each season, the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in Brownsburg, Indiana on Labor Day weekend.

In addition to his two wins, Hight has made a dramatic jump upward in the Funny Car point standings, climbing from eighth to third place.

He’s 166 points behind Funny Car points leader and defending series champ Ron Capps, but is just eight points behind second-ranked Matt Hagan.

But wait, there’s more:

* In addition, Hight has qualified No. 1 in three of the last four national events, and has qualified third or better in the last nine consecutive national events.

* He also made major news three weeks ago when one of those No. 1 qualifiers was the fastest speed ever seen in Funny Car annals: 339.87 mph at Sonoma.

Now he’s looking for even more speed this weekend – and maybe even more records to fall.

“If conditions are good, Brainerd can be a fast race track,” said Hight, the 2015 Brainerd winner. “I’m looking forward to going there, having a successful weekend.

“We have a good shot at getting up to second points, and going into Indy No. 2 would be pretty cool. We’re looking for another win.”

Hight also is on the verge of becoming part of another NHRA milestone. If he gets past the first round in Sunday’s final eliminations, it will be his 400th career round victory.

Only five other Funny Car drivers have ever earned 400 or more round wins, led by Hight’s boss and father-in-law, John Force, with 1,278 career round wins.

“That’s big,” Hight said. “You’ve got to get round wins before you get race wins, and that’s how you get race wins. John has 1,278 round wins, so 400 doesn’t seem like very much.

“I don’t know how 400 stacks up to other guys who have raced the similar amount of time, but I’m happy that the round wins are coming more frequently than there were for us. That’s encouraging, and that’s exciting.”

The first two rounds of qualifying at Brainerd on Friday are at 4:30 p.m. ET and 7 p.m. ET.

The final two rounds are Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. ET.

Final eliminations begin at Noon ET, with live coverage on Fox Sports 1 from 2-5 p.m. ET.

Want to learn more about Hight? Check it out:

  • Hight won the 2009 NHRA Funny Car championship. He’s going for his second title this year, being one of six Funny Car drivers that have already qualified for the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
  • Hight has competed in 12 races at Brainerd, and has qualified for 11 races and every race since 2010.
  • Hight has advanced to the finals once at Brainerd, in 2015. He won that race, defeating Tommy Johnson Jr.
  • Hight is 9-10 all-time in 19 elimination rounds at Brainerd.
  • Hight’s best qualifying effort at Brainerd has been No. 3, which he has achieved three times – 2007, 2008 and 2010. Brainerd is one of two current tracks in which Hight is still looking for a No. 1 qualifier (Bristol being the other).
  • Hight has won five of his 11 first-round elimination matchups at Brainerd.
  • Hight’s 39 victories are the fourth most in Funny Car history, behind John Force (148); Ron Capps (55); and Tony Pedregon (43). He is tied with Del Worsham for 21st on the all-time professional victories list; Worsham has 31 wins in Funny Car and eight in Top Fuel.
  • Hight is one elimination round victory away from 400. His 399 round wins are 24th all-time in NHRA history. Angelle Sampey currently has 400 round wins.
  • Hight has been the No. 1 qualifier four times this season, and three times in the last four races. His 53 No. 1s are third most in Funny Car history, and he is tied for 11th with Larry Dixon across all professional categories. Only Force (155) and Cruz Pedregon (61) have more in the category.
  • In 2017, Hight has two victories, a 26-14 record in elimination rounds, and four No. 1 qualifiers. He holds a season-best 38 elimination-round wins in a season, in 2014. He has surpassed 30 elimination-round wins in a season seven times in 12 previous seasons.
  • Hight has set the fastest event speed a career-best nine times this season, which exceeds his previous season-best of seven set in his rookie season, 2005. He now has 50 fastest event speeds in his career, the 50th coming last month at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, where he set the NHRA record at 339.87 mph.
  • Hight has four final rounds this season and 61 in his career.
  • Hight has competed in 158 consecutive races, tied for 17th all-time with Doug Kalitta, dating back to the second race at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif., in 2010.
  • Hight’s most recent NHRA victory – 2017 Northwest Nationals in Kent, Wash.
  • Hight’s most recent No. 1 qualifying effort – 2017 Northwest Nationals in Kent, Wash.
  • Hight’s best time/speed at Brainerd – 3.885 seconds (2016 E1); 330.31 mph (2016 Q1)
  • Hight’s best time/speed of career – 3.807 seconds (2017 Sonoma Q2; third quickest elapsed time in history); 339.87 mph (2017 Sonoma Q2; fastest speed in history)

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Notebook: NHRA honors Terry Chandler; John Force Racing, Kalitta Motorsports struggle

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JOLIET, Illinois — It was a rough weekend in many aspects for many of those at the Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois:

* First, Terry Chandler, a philanthropist who had spent the last several years personally bankrolling Jack Beckman’s “Infinite Hero” and Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tommy Johnson Jr.’s “Make A Wish” Funny Cars, was honored prior to the start of Sunday’s eliminations.

A five-minute video retrospect of Chandler’s life was played on the video screens at the track. Chandler was a beloved member of the NHRA family who passed away July 4 at the age of 65 after a courageous battle with brain cancer.

The late Terry Chandler and one of the drivers whose team’s she sponsored, Tommy Johnson Jr.

Chandler is the sister of former NHRA racer Johnny Gray, aunt to Shane Gray and great-aunt to current Pro Stock racer Tanner Gray.

“You already knew how much she was loved,” Funny Car driver Ron Capps said of Chandler. “I saw her standing at the back of my car (during the first round today). I had to shake my head because I was so used to seeing her standing there.

“This was her life, making kids smile. Drag racing is all she talked about. It was a very emotional weekend and bittersweet.”

Capps gave the winning trophy to team owner Don Schumacher and his family, who will then give it to Chandler’s family.

* John Force Racing struggled miserably in Sunday’s final eliminations. All three JFR Funny Car drivers — Courtney Force, Robert High and team patriarch John Force — lost in the first round and all for the same reason: they smoked their tires (lost traction).

Courtney Force lost to J.R. Todd, Hight lost to Jim Campbell and John Force lost to Tommy Johnson Jr. It’s the first time this season that all three JFR Funny Cars have lost in the first round.

The fourth JFR driver, Top Fuel pilot Brittany Force, made it out of the first round, but lost in the second round in an upset victory by T.J. Zizzo.

John Force took the unusual step after the race of issuing a statement to fans of his, Hight’s and his two daughters’ respective teams.

“We’re moving in the right direction, and it’s a long way to the Countdown (the NHRA’s six-race playoffs),” Force said in a statement. “I can’t say thanks enough to my guys. I know they’re bummed right now, but I don’t want them to take it home. I love them all. Let’s get ready and go to Denver (the next race in two weeks, which kicks off the annual three-race ‘Western Swing’).”

Added Hight, who came into Sunday as the event’s No. 1 qualifier in Funny Car, “The good news is our performance is there. What we have to quit doing is beating ourselves, and that’s what we do every week. We’re not getting outrun, ever. We drop cylinders, we smoke the tires. There haven’t been any races when we’ve went out there side by side and gotten beat. We’re not getting beat by the competition; we’re getting beat by ourselves. We have to eliminate that.”

* Zizzo’s Cinderella story came to an end in the semifinals when he lost to Top Fuel points leader Steve Torrence. It was the first race for Zizzo and his team in nearly 10 months (last time was at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, early last September).

But the local driver (from north suburban Lincolnshire, Ill.) has no reason to hang his head. It’s the third time the little team that could has taken out the No. 1 qualifier at Route 66 in the last five seasons: defeated eight-time Top Fuel champ Tony Schumacher after he qualified No. 1 in the 2013 race, beat 2014 No. 1 qualifier Spencer Massey and then 2017 No. 1 qualifier Britney Force.

In addition, Zizzo recorded the two best speed showings of his Top Fuel career (324.36 mph in his first round win over Pat Dakin and his second-round upset (324.75) of Brittany Force.

* Another of the sport’s super teams, Kalitta Motorsports, also struggled Sunday. Doug Kalitta smoked the tires and lost to two-time defending Top Fuel champ Antron Brown in the first round. Troy Coughlin Jr. also lost in the first round of Top Fuel to Leah Pritchett. Shawn Langdon reached the quarterfinals before falling to Clay Millican.

In Funny Car, Kalitta Motorsports driver J.R. Todd upset Courtney Force in the first round, but lost to Tommy Johnson Jr. in the second round. Ditto for Alexis DeJoria, who won her first round match with Cruz Pedregon, but lost to Matt Hagan in the second round.

(Photo courtesy SteveJohnsonRacing.com)

* Veteran Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Steve Johnson, one of the most popular drivers in the sport, had a bittersweet day.

On the positive, he celebrated his 400th career start in an NHRA event. On the negative, the Alabama resident lost in the first round and was sent home early.

* The oldest driver in NHRA competition, 86-year-old Chicago resident Chris Karamesines, is a big local fan favorite.

But he struggled during the four rounds of qualifying on Friday and Saturday, unable to do better than 4.690 seconds at 165.42 mph, and was the only driver of the 17 Top Fuel pilots entered for the weekend that failed to qualify.

However, 74-year-old driver Luigi Novelli, of nearby Crete, Ill., qualified 16th, the final spot on the Top Fuel ladder, but lost in the first round to No. 1 qualifier Brittany Force.

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(UPDATED with videos) NHRA at Joliet — The haves keep on having: Capps, Torrence, Tonglet win again

Photos and video courtesy NHRA
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JOLIET, Illinois — There doesn’t seem to be any stopping NHRA drivers Ron Capps in Funny Car, Steve Torrence in Top Fuel and motorcycle rider LE Tonglet, who all captured wins in Sunday’s final round of the Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway.

They are the haves of the sport, while those they keep beating are the have nots. Here’s how Sunday played out:

* In Funny Car, 2016 series champion Capps earned his career-high sixth win of the season, but it was his first win ever at Route 66. Capps (4.026 seconds at 319.67 mph) earned his 55th career win, defeating Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. (4.047 seconds at 319.90 mph).

“It’s been a season you can’t even dream about, especially coming off a championship,” Capps said.

Capps, who is in the running to become NHRA’s first winner of an ESPY (this Wednesday), increased his lead in the Funny Car point standings to 1,208 points, a nearly 200-point edge over second-ranked Matt Hagan (1,022).

It was also the 60th career win (both Funny Car and Top Fuel) for Capps’ crew chief, Rahn Tobler.

“60 wins is huge, he’s had a pretty storied career,” Capps said of Tobler. “To get together with him in 2012 is a dream. He’s become an older brother to me, he’s really become family to me.”

As for Capps, who has been racing for more than 30 years, he feels that he’s in his prime at the age of 52.

“I feel like I’m peaking right now, Capps said. “I took a lot of years for granted with Snake (when he raced for Don “Snake” Prudhomme). I was just living in the moment. Now, I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been, I work hard or harder than anybody.”

* In Top Fuel, Torrence rolled to his fifth win in the first 13 races of the 2017 NHRA national event season. Torrence (3.779 seconds at 326.08 mph) defeated two-time defending champ Antron Brown (3.786 seconds at 326.71 mph).

You can’t get much closer than this: Torrence defeated Brown by a mere .005 of a second at the finish line.

Ironically, Torrence is now 3-22 lifetime vs. Brown, including 2-1 in final round meetings this season.

“I didn’t have a good car for the first half of the races I raced (Brown) and then I had a mental block,” Torrence said. “Finally, I just got it in the back of my mind and pushed it out. The kind of driver he is, he’s just the whole package. If there’s anybody I would want to emulate, it would be him.”

It was Torrence’s 13th career Top Fuel win; he’s never won more than three races in a single season. With 11 more national events remaining, and the roll he’s been on of late, it’s likely he’ll keep the  most successful season of his career going.

“You don’t want to stop or slow that momentum down,” Torrence said. “We’re bringing our A game every time. It feels really great to have our car, the confidence in our car and tuner and guys on the team. We used to have bullets to drop, but now we’re dropping bombs.”

Torrence remains No. 1 in the Top Fuel point standings with a 101 point edge (1,188 to 1,087) over Leah Pritchett.

“I’m not even thinking championship, I don’t even want to say the word ‘championship,'” Torrence said. “That’s a goal, but the only way you can get to that is one round at a time.”

* In Pro Stock Motorcycle, LE Tonglet continued to be the hottest rider in the sport, earning his fourth win in the last six races (in one of those other two races, teammate Jerry Savoie won, meaning the White Alligator/Nitro Fish team has won five of the last six national events).

Tonglet (6.835 seconds at 195.99 mph) defeated Hector Arana Jr. (6.878 seconds at 193.29 mph).

Tonglet remains No. 1 in the rider stanings, leading Eddie Krawiec (601 to 460 points).

* In Pro Stock, Drew Skillman became the ninth different winner in the category in 2017 and also earning his fourth career Pro Stock win. Skillman (6.627 seconds at 209.23 mph) defeated Erica Enders (6.655 seconds at 207.37 mph).

Skillman is eighth in the Pro Stock points (723 points); Bo Butner remains No. 1 in the standings (1,148 points to second-ranked Greg Anderson (1,009).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1.  Steve Torrence; 2.  Antron Brown; 3.  T.J. Zizzo; 4.  Clay Millican; 5.  Brittany Force; 6.  Shawn Langdon; 7.  Blake Alexander; 8.  Leah Pritchett; 9.  Tony Schumacher; 10.  Scott Palmer; 11.  Kyle Wurtzel; 12.  Troy Coughlin Jr.; 13.  Pat Dakin; 14.  Luigi Novelli; 15.  Terry McMillen; 16.  Doug Kalitta.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Ron Capps; 2.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 3.  Matt Hagan; 4.  Tim Wilkerson; 5.  J.R. Todd; 6.  Alexis DeJoria; 7.  Jim Campbell; 8.  Jack Beckman; 9.  Cruz Pedregon; 10.  Jonnie Lindberg; 11.  Brian Stewart; 12.  John Force; 13.  Courtney Force; 14.  Del Worsham; 15.  Robert Hight; 16.  Bob Bode.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Drew Skillman; 2.  Erica Enders; 3.  Bo Butner; 4.  Jason Line; 5.  Greg Anderson; 6.  Tanner Gray; 7.  Vincent Nobile; 8.  Kenny Delco; 9.  Allen Johnson; 10.  Chris McGaha; 11.  Alex Laughlin; 12.  Mark Hogan; 13.  Shane Tucker; 14.  Jeg Coughlin; 15.  Alan Prusiensky; 16.  Val Smeland.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  LE Tonglet; 2.  Hector Arana Jr; 3.  Karen Stoffer; 4.  Eddie Krawiec; 5.  Scotty Pollacheck; 6.  Angie Smith; 7.  Mike Berry; 8.  Jerry Savoie; 9.  Matt Smith; 10.  Melissa Surber; 11.  Joey Gladstone; 12.  Andrew Hines; 13.  Steve Johnson; 14.  Chip Ellis; 15.  Angelle Sampey; 16.  Cory Reed.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

FINAL RESULTS: 

TOP FUEL: Steve Torrence, 3.779 seconds, 326.08 mph  def. Antron Brown, 3.786 seconds, 326.71 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.026, 319.67  def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.047, 319.90.

PRO STOCK: Drew Skillman, Chevy Camaro, 6.627, 209.23  def. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.655, 207.37.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.835, 195.99  def. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.878, 193.29.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — T.J. Zizzo, 3.793, 324.36 def. Pat Dakin, Foul – Red Light; Antron Brown, 3.776, 322.42 def. Doug Kalitta, 6.478, 152.78; Clay Millican, 3.813, 323.81 def. Kyle Wurtzel, 3.906, 300.80; Leah Pritchett, 3.858, 294.18 def. Troy Coughlin Jr., 3.968, 279.50; Brittany Force, 4.309, 240.94 def. Luigi Novelli, 4.927, 255.34; Steve Torrence, 3.828, 325.53 def. Scott Palmer, 3.901, 315.12; Blake Alexander, 3.940, 301.54 def. Tony Schumacher, 3.883, 306.26; Shawn Langdon, 3.835, 318.69 def. Terry McMillen, 5.170, 141.08;

QUARTERFINALS — Torrence, 3.843, 324.20 def. Alexander, 4.087, 257.48; Zizzo, 3.787, 324.75 def. Force, 3.817, 322.88; Millican, 3.888, 314.61 def. Langdon, 3.909, 309.91; Brown, 3.853, 305.29 def. Pritchett, 5.247, 139.10;

SEMIFINALS — Torrence, 3.815, 320.05 def. Zizzo, 3.983, 285.77; Brown, 3.784, 325.53 def. Millican, 4.689, 165.64;

FINAL — Torrence, 3.779, 326.08 def. Brown, 3.786, 326.71.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.162, 251.95 def. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 5.718, 133.68; Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.082, 310.48 def. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 6.473, 107.50; J.R. Todd, Camry, 4.480, 242.71 def. Courtney Force, Camaro, 5.680, 135.61; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.020, 320.28 def. Bob Bode, Charger, Foul – Centerline; Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 3.974, 322.81 def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.024, 321.88; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.026, 319.07 def. John Force, Camaro, 4.982, 157.39; Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.361, 222.29 def. Brian Stewart, Mustang, 4.825, 176.70; Ron Capps, Charger, 4.005, 320.89 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 4.072, 321.19;

QUARTERFINALS — Johnson Jr., 4.026, 317.72 def. Todd, 4.260, 248.75; Capps, 4.119, 309.98 def. Campbell, 4.432, 204.60; Wilkerson, 4.107, 314.61 def. Beckman, 5.061, 172.65; Hagan, 4.006, 319.60 def. DeJoria, 4.399, 210.67;

SEMIFINALS — Johnson Jr., 4.015, 317.87 def. Wilkerson, 7.734, 117.15; Capps, 4.038, 318.84 def. Hagan, 4.088, 313.58;

FINAL — Capps, 4.026, 319.67 def. Johnson Jr., 4.047, 319.90.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Erica Enders, Chevy Camaro, 6.651, 208.91 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.665, 208.59; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.636, 209.26 def. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.658, 207.78; Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.606, 209.49 def. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.666, 208.62; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.617, 209.62 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 8.300, 118.12; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.624, 209.23 def. Shane Tucker, Camaro, 6.762, 204.54; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.605, 209.88 def. Mark Hogan, Pontiac GXP, 6.761, 202.79; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.595, 209.85 def. Val Smeland, Camaro, Broke; Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.722, 206.67 def. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.791, 207.56;

QUARTERFINALS — Line, 6.637, 209.33 def. Delco, Foul – Red Light; Skillman, 6.622, 208.91 def. Gray, 6.639, 209.10; Butner, 6.623, 209.52 def. Nobile, 6.647, 208.52; Enders, 6.649, 208.68 def. Anderson, 6.614, 209.59;

SEMIFINALS — Enders, 6.649, 208.46 def. Line, 6.654, 208.88; Skillman, 6.625, 209.14 def. Butner, 6.621, 209.69;

FINAL — Skillman, 6.627, 209.23 def. Enders, 6.655, 207.37.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.819, 197.05 def. Chip Ellis, 6.946, 193.10; Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.943, 193.16 def. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.922, 194.60; LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.830, 196.36 def. Cory Reed, Foul – Red Light; Angie Smith, Buell, 6.894, 194.38 def. Melissa Surber, Buell, 6.873, 193.38; Mike Berry, Buell, 6.890, 192.66 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.931, 192.77; Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 6.851, 194.72 def. Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 6.889, 195.22; Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.852, 195.90 def. Angelle Sampey, 6.972, 188.73; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.940, 192.52 def. Matt Smith, Foul – Red Light;

QUARTERFINALS — Stoffer, 6.946, 192.99 def. Savoie, 7.212, 151.14; Krawiec, 6.938, 193.46 def. Berry, 6.949, 191.67; Tonglet, 6.843, 195.65 def. Pollacheck, 6.881, 193.29; Arana Jr, 6.882, 193.88 def. A. Smith, 6.946, 192.25;

SEMIFINALS — Arana Jr, 6.844, 195.03 def. Krawiec, 6.963, 193.07; Tonglet, 6.843, 195.82 def. Stoffer, 6.904, 192.82;

FINAL — Tonglet, 6.835, 195.99 def. Arana Jr, 6.878, 193.29.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

UPDATED POINT STANDINGS

TOP FUEL: 1.  Steve Torrence, 1,188; 2.  Leah Pritchett, 1,087; 3.  Antron Brown, 1,085; 4.  Tony Schumacher, 894; 5.  Doug Kalitta, 813; 6.  Brittany Force, 795; 7.  Clay Millican, 773; 8.  Terry McMillen, 509; 9.  Scott Palmer, 496; 10.  Troy Coughlin Jr., 480.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Ron Capps, 1,208; 2.  Matt Hagan, 1,022; 3.  Jack Beckman, 914; 4.  Robert Hight, 853; 5.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 833; 6.  Courtney Force, 749; 7.  John Force, 718; 8.  Tim Wilkerson, 599; 9.  J.R. Todd, 559; 10.  Cruz Pedregon, 463.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Bo Butner, 1,148; 2.  Greg Anderson, 1,009; 3.  Tanner Gray, 944; 4.  (tie) Jeg Coughlin, 856; Jason Line, 856; 6.  Erica Enders, 782; 7.  Vincent Nobile, 723; 8.  Drew Skillman, 696; 9.  Chris McGaha, 487; 10.  Allen Johnson, 480.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  LE Tonglet, 601; 2.  Eddie Krawiec, 460; 3.  Hector Arana Jr, 419; 4.  Scotty Pollacheck, 381; 5.  Jerry Savoie, 379; 6.  Andrew Hines, 349; 7.  Joey Gladstone, 310; 8.  Matt Smith, 300; 9.  Karen Stoffer, 291; 10.  Steve Johnson, 253.

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Leah Pritchett, husband Gary have great marriage — but are fierce rivals on the drag strip

Photo courtesy LeahPritchett.com
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Leah and Gary Pritchett love each other – except for less than four seconds every now and then.

The Pritchett’s are one of the most unique couples in NHRA drag racing.

Leah is in her first full season as a Top Fuel driver with Don Schumacher Racing and primary sponsor Papa John’s Pizza. She’s had a spectacular breakthrough season already, capturing wins in three of the first 12 races.

She will try to kick off the second half of the 24-race NHRA national event schedule this weekend with yet another win this season in the Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois, about 50 miles southwest of Chicago.

Then there’s Gary – and that’s where the less than four seconds deal comes to the fore.

You see, Gary is a crew member on the Top Fuel dragster of Steve Torrence, who has quickly become Leah’s No. 1 rival.

“This year has definitely brought its challenges,” Leah said. “Before, it was all fun and games, joking matters and all of that (between both teams).

“But then our teams have turned into pretty serious rivals since the beginning of this season.”

Torrence leads the Top Fuel ranks with four wins and is also No. 1 in the standings, where Leah was after eight races thus far in 2017 (she’s dropped to No. 2 heading into this weekend).

And when Torrence and Leah meet on the starting line and run down a drag strip at less than four seconds and more than 325 mph, you might think things have the potential to get a little tense in the Pritchett household.

But that isn’t necessarily the case.

“I think it’s unusual for everybody else but us,” Leah said. “Since we’ve been together six years, we’ve never been on the same team. So, that’s how we know it to work.”

Sure, Gary wants his wife to succeed, but not necessarily at the expense of Torrence. Loyalties are pretty well defined when both teams are side-by-side on a drag strip.

“That’s a great question and I cannot answer that for him, I can guarantee you that,” Leah said with a laugh during Thursday’s Media Day in downtown Chicago. “I think because of the success we’ve had this year, he can’t do anything but want to beat us.

“Say if we were down in 15th place and they’re No. 1, I’m sure he would be hoping for our team much more.

“But we operate completely independent. I know nothing about what happens under his canopy, I mean nothing. It’s like living in Detroit and the wife works for Ford and the husband works for Chevy.”

Only 50 points separate No. 1 Torrence and No. 2 Leah Pritchett heading into this weekend’s race. If weather conditions are optimal, there’s expectations that a number of track – if not national – speed and elapsed time records could fall, and don’t be surprised to see Leah and Torrence meeting each other in Sunday’s final round.

And given the way the season has gone so far for both teams, it’s not out of the question that Leah and Torrence could fight it out for the Top Fuel championship at season’s end.

“If we’re neck-and-neck like we are now come Pomona (the final race of the season and likely the championship-deciding race), we will probably have completely separate hotel rooms – if not completely different hotels,” Leah said with another laugh.

“I’m staying where my team stays and he’ll stay where his team stays.”

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NHRA legend John Force shows he’s still got it — on drag strip and also on pitcher’s mound

Photo courtesy John Force Racing
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With a record 16 NHRA Funny Car championships and another record 148 wins in his career, there’s no question John Force knows how to make things go straight down the middle.

And it’s that kind of philosophy Force relied upon when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch Wednesday at Wrigley Field for the game between the World Champion Chicago Cubs and visiting Tampa Bay Rays.

Force admitted to MotorSportsTalk Thursday that he was nervous heading to the mound. He’s only thrown a first pitch a couple of times in his 50-plus year drag racing career, the most recent time coming several years ago before a Giants game in San Francisco.

John Force, left, with teammate and son-in-law Robert Hight.

Force didn’t want to embarrass himself or his sponsors, so he kept visualizing the task in his mind for the last couple of weeks as a way of preparation.

When the time came for Force to rear back and let the ball fly, he wound up throwing an impressive strike.

John Force throws out the first pitch at Wednesday’s Cubs game at Wrigley Field.

Cubs pitcher Eddie Butler served as the catcher for Force’s toss and gave the driver some advice.

“Butler said to go back to your childhood when you throw it,” Force said. “I got out there on that mound and with all the cheering from the crowd, and just like going into the finals of a race, I tried to blank it all out and just got into my zone.

“So I had this big old wind-up and I threw that son of a gun as hard and as solid as I could throw it and it was a strike.”

As it turns out, Butler is a big drag racing fan and especially a Force fan.

It’s kind of hard to judge who was more excited about the event, Force for throwing the pitch or Butler getting to meet his favorite drag racer for the first time.

“Other than throwing out those other two first pitches, it’s been about 40 years or more since I last threw a baseball,” Force said. “I didn’t want to throw it in the dirt.”

Butler and several other Cub players signed the ball for Force as a memorial of the day, and Force — who is competing in this weekend’s Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois — then gave the ball to his grandson, Jacob.

“I did something for my grandkids that I’ll likely never be able to do again,” Force said. “It was really cool.”

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