NHRA Charlotte: Cruz Pedregon gets 1st win since 2014, Steve Torrence wins 3rd of 2018

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Sunday’s NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals saw one driver who hasn’t won in a while take home a victory, while another driver continues to dominate in 2018.

Funny Car driver Cruz Pedregon earned his first win in nearly four years (since Englishtown in 2014), while Steve Torrence continued to dominate the Top Fuel class with his third win in the season’s first six races.

Also winning: Erica Enders in Pro Stock and Jerry Savoie in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

In Funny Car: Pedregon covered the 1,000-foot drag strip in 4.059 seconds at 310.84 mph, outlasting 16-time Funny Car champ John Force, daughter and No. 1 qualifier Courtney Force and Tommy Johnson Jr.

It was Pedregon’s 36th career win in the Funny Car ranks, moving him past legendary Don “Snake” Prudhomme into fifth place for all-time wins in Funny Car.

“I knew we had our work cut out for us when I pulled up to the starting line in the finals, and I actually didn’t believe my ears when my team manager told me that I won,” Pedregon said. “It was surreal, and I cannot believe that I won this race.”

Pedregon snapped a 92-race winless streak.

“Ninety-two is a good number because that’s also the year I won my first championship,” said Pedregon, who became the fifth different winner in six Funny Car races this season. “I didn’t actually believe my ears when I heard we won. It was surreal. It’s still a little bit surreal. I cannot believe we won this race. It’s pretty cool.

“I thought at one point, ‘Man, maybe I’m not destined to win anymore.’ I don’t want to do this if I don’t feel like I’m competitive. This is a lot of stress. I have a daughter who’s seven and this is a lot of travel. … This might be the best, sweetest victory of my career. I’ve been fortunate to drive some good cars and win a lot of races but this one’s big. It meant a lot to me that our competitors, John Force and Courtney Force, came up and congratulated me.”

In Top Fuel: Torrence continued to be the man to beat, earning his third win of 2018 and back into first place in the point standings. It was also Torrence’s 19th national event win and his second career win at zMAX Dragway. It’s also his third straight four-wide win: last year at Charlotte, this year at Las Vegas and again at Charlotte.

Torrence’s 3.813-second pass at 326.56 mph defeated the other three drivers in the final round of Top Fuel eliminations: Doug Kalitta, Clay Millican and Terry McMillen.

“It’s pretty unbelievable,” said Torrence, who also won the four-wide event at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on April 8. “The car performed flawlessly. It did everything it was supposed to. The team deserves the success. I just drive the race car and try not to do anything dumb. They cover my butt.

“If I honestly knew what the recipe (to winning four-wide races) was, I’d try to write it down so I wouldn’t forget.”

In Pro Stock: Enders won her 23rd career NHRA national event win with a performance of 6.535 seconds and 212.73 mph, defeating Vincent Nobile, Chris McGaha and No. 1 qualifier Drew Skillman.

It was Enders’ first win in nearly a year, having last won last season at Epping, New Hampshire.

“We made a car change going into our home race in Houston last week and we made it to the finals,” Enders said, adding “so we came into this race with some confidence. This is definitely a special victory for me.

“I’ve never won a four-wide race so this is definitely significant to me. To be able to come back and win the four-wide is great. I have the best team of guys in all of motorsports.”

In Pro Stock Motorcycle: Savoie earned his ninth career NHRA win with a run of 6.784 seconds at 195.73 mph, defeating Andrew Hines, Scotty Pollacheck and Matt Smith.

“We struggled all weekend, but my team worked really hard to get things right so we went out and gave it all we got and figured some things out,” Savoie said. “My reaction times on this bike are traditionally not great, but I was able to do pretty well today and we had the power on this bike to get a win.”

It was an emotional celebration for Savoie, who tried to hold back tears of joy.

“We got after it and it showed,” Savoie said. “It’s pretty cool. I don’t have the best reaction times on the bike, as everyone knows, but I cut a decent light.

“People ask me, ‘Why do you cry when you win?’ It takes a lot of dedication to do this – even to get to the finals. It’s a tough gig. At my age, at 59, when you win one, you never know if it’ll be your last one.”

The next race is this coming weekend, May 4-6: the NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Georgia.

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence; 2. Doug Kalitta; 3. Terry McMillen; 4. Clay Millican; 5. Dom Lagana; 6. Shawn Reed; 7. Mike Salinas; 8. Audrey Worm; 9. Brittany Force; 10. Tony Schumacher; 11. Antron Brown; 12. Kyle Wurtzel; 13. Leah Pritchett; 14. Scott Palmer; 15. Richie Crampton; 16. Pat Dakin.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Cruz Pedregon; 2. John Force; 3. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 4. Courtney Force; 5. J.R. Todd; 6. Robert Hight; 7. Jack Beckman; 8. Ron Capps; 9. John Smith; 10. Bob Tasca III; 11. Tim Wilkerson; 12. Dale Creasy Jr.; 13. Jim Campbell; 14. Matt Hagan; 15. Jonnie Lindberg; 16. Shawn Langdon.

PRO STOCK: 1. Erica Enders; 2. Vincent Nobile; 3. Chris McGaha; 4. Drew Skillman; 5. Jeg Coughlin; 6. Bo Butner; 7. Alex Laughlin; 8. Tanner Gray; 9. Jason Line; 10. Greg Anderson; 11. John Gaydosh Jr; 12. Alan Prusiensky; 13. Val Smeland; 14. Deric Kramer; 15. Matt Hartford; 16. Kenny Delco.

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

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FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Steve Torrence, 3.813 seconds, 326.56 mph def. Doug Kalitta, 4.010 seconds, 278.12 mph and Terry McMillen, 4.361 seconds, 235.72 mph and Clay Millican, 5.295 seconds, 129.97 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.059, 310.84 def. John Force, Chevy Camaro, 4.098, 307.93 and Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.143, 275.39 and Courtney Force, Camaro, 6.215, 114.46.

PRO STOCK: Erica Enders, Chevy Camaro, 6.535, 212.73 def. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.520, 212.69 and Chris McGaha, Camaro, 8.237, 118.82 and Drew Skillman, Camaro, 18.515, 43.69.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.784, 195.73 def. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.873, 197.05 and Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 6.865, 193.79 and Matt Smith, Victory, DQ;

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Steve Torrence, 3.709, 331.53 and Terry McMillen, 4.453, 237.71 def. Kyle Wurtzel, 5.500, 122.46 and Pat Dakin, broke; Doug Kalitta, 3.762, 328.70 and Mike Salinas, 4.087, 222.84 def. Antron Brown, 4.872, 130.04 and Richie Crampton, 10.437, 38.24; Dom Lagana, 3.834, 324.05 and Clay Millican, 4.376, 194.18 def. Tony Schumacher, 4.726, 219.72 and Leah Pritchett, 4.999, 174.77; Shawn Reed, 4.045, 238.60 and Audrey Worm, 4.238, 225.86 def. Brittany Force, 4.473, 264.18 and Scott Palmer, 9.401, 91.73; SEMIFINALS — Kalitta, 3.809, 317.64 and Millican, 3.874, 317.34 def. Lagana, 3.903, 309.13 and Salinas, 4.934, 155.24; McMillen, 3.850, 321.65 and Torrence, 3.873, 286.80 def. Reed, 3.956, 285.47 and Worm, broke; FINAL — Torrence, 3.813, 326.56 def. Kalitta, 4.010, 278.12, McMillen, 4.361, 235.72 and Millican, 5.295, 129.97.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 4.566, 273.27 and Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.585, 218.16 def. Dale Creasy Jr., Dodge Stratus, 4.703, 174.91 and Jonnie Lindberg, Ford Mustang, 9.074, 77.52; Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.979, 311.41 and John Force, Camaro, 4.307, 283.19 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.686, 199.17 and Jim Campbell, Charger, 5.052, 157.72; Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.156, 243.55 and Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.374, 215.00 def. John Smith, Chevy Monte Carlo, 4.315, 256.84 and Matt Hagan, Charger, 5.145, 127.07; J.R. Todd, Camry, 4.031, 305.42 and Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.427, 237.71 def. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.667, 167.63 and Shawn Langdon, Camry, 14.795, 79.49; SEMIFINALS — Pedregon, 4.055, 309.20 and Johnson Jr., 4.007, 314.02 def. Hight, 4.610, 192.49 and Capps, 5.233, 140.44; J. Force, 4.108, 299.66 and C. Force, 4.115, 255.68 def. Todd, 4.435, 245.94 and Beckman, 4.717, 204.79; FINAL — Pedregon, 4.059, 310.84 def. J. Force, 4.098, 307.93, Johnson Jr., 4.143, 275.39 and C. Force, 6.215, 114.46.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Alex Laughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.548, 211.96 and Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.544, 212.33 def. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 7.149, 154.16 and Deric Kramer, Camaro, 7.957, 103.40; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.515, 212.66 and Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.513, 212.16 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 7.283, 150.06 and Matt Hartford, Camaro, 10.321, 89.57; Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.534, 211.30 and Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.540, 212.03 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.541, 212.93 and Kenny Delco, Camaro, 15.879, 52.83; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.500, 212.56 and Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.524, 212.03 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.539, 211.46 and Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.639, 209.23; SEMIFINALS — McGaha, 6.545, 211.63 and Nobile, 6.540, 211.93 def. Coughlin, 6.547, 211.76 and Gray, 6.546, 212.06; Enders, 6.517, 212.86 and Skillman, 6.526, 212.79 def. Butner, 6.552, 211.49 and Laughlin, 6.535, 211.96; FINAL — Enders, 6.535, 212.73 def. Nobile, 6.520, 212.69, McGaha, 8.237, 118.82 and Skillman, 18.515, 43.69.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Andrew Hines, Harley Street Rod, 6.843, 195.03 and Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.847, 194.66 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki TL1000, 6.924, 191.48 and Hector Arana, EBR, 16.364, 27.42; Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki GSXR, 6.822, 193.88 and Matt Smith, Victory, 6.893, 194.69 def. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.907, 193.79 and Steve Johnson, TL1000, 6.924, 195.25; LE Tonglet, 6.854, 195.59 and Jerry Savoie, TL, 6.857, 191.95 def. Jim Underdahl, GSXR, 7.111, 176.95 and Hector Arana Jr, EBR, 9.362, 92.90; Cory Reed, Buell, 6.819, 194.66 and Ryan Oehler, Buell XB9R, 6.896, 194.88 def. Joey Gladstone, GSXR, 6.946, 187.11 and Eddie Krawiec, Street Rod, 6.881, 197.45; SEMIFINALS — Savoie, 6.765, 195.73 and Hines, 6.800, 197.94 def. Tonglet, 6.839, 196.02 and Sampey, 13.129, 57.27; Pollacheck, 6.844, 194.21 and M. Smith, 6.883, 194.24 def. Oehler, 6.930, 193.68 and Reed, 6.947, 194.16; FINAL — Savoie, 6.784, 195.73 def. Hines, 6.873, 197.05, Pollacheck, 6.865, 193.79 and M. Smith, DQ.

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UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 503; 2. Tony Schumacher, 426; 3. Doug Kalitta, 401; 4. Clay Millican, 384; 5. Antron Brown, 362; 6. Leah Pritchett, 315; 7. Brittany Force, 311; 8. Terry McMillen, 305; 9. Richie Crampton, 263; 10. Scott Palmer, 249.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Jack Beckman, 466; 2. Courtney Force, 425; 3. J.R. Todd, 403; 4. Matt Hagan, 395; 5. Robert Hight, 381; 6. Tommy Johnson Jr., 376; 7. Ron Capps, 352; 8. Cruz Pedregon, 274; 9. Shawn Langdon, 269; 10. Jonnie Lindberg, 256.

PRO STOCK: 1. Bo Butner, 434; 2. Vincent Nobile, 417; 3. Erica Enders, 406; 4. Chris McGaha, 403; 5. Greg Anderson, 377; 6. Drew Skillman, 362; 7. Deric Kramer, 359; 8. Tanner Gray, 340; 9. Jason Line, 335; 10. Alex Laughlin, 316.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Andrew Hines, 204; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 166; 3. Scotty Pollacheck, 154; 4. Jerry Savoie, 148; 5. Cory Reed, 107; 6. (tie) Hector Arana, 105; Angelle Sampey, 105; 8. LE Tonglet, 95; 9. Steve Johnson, 88; 10. (tie) Ryan Oehler, 83; Karen Stoffer, 83.

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IndyCar’s ‘Phoenix’ flying into 2023 season: Romain Grosjean enjoying the pilot’s life

IndyCar Romain Grosjean pilot
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – The IndyCar driver known as “The Phoenix” already has taken flight before the 2023 season, and newly licensed pilot Romain Grosjean also got a head start on the opener.

Fulfilling a dream several years in the making, the Andretti Autosport plunged into aviation training over the offseason. Since beginning with online studying last August, Grosjean quickly progressed to earning his licenses for multiengine planes and instrument ratings while completing 115 hours of flight time.

He has landed twice at Albert Whitted Airport, whose primary runway also doubles as the front straightaway on the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg street course.

“Just to land on the start-finish line, that was pretty cool,” Grosjean said during IndyCar Preseason Content Days ahead of the Feb. 2-3 test at The Thermal Club. “The air traffic control guy was like, “Yeah, left on Acre Five, turn, and then back. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the last corner of the racetrack, I’ll take it and go back to the pit lane. He was like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s true.’ So it was quite funny.”

Grosjean, 36, said he had wanted to become a pilot since he was 30 but was discouraged by Europe’s complicated and time-consuming licensing process (“to go to ground school twice a week, and with our life, it’s impossible”). He was inspired again last year by (now former) teammate Alexander Rossi, who flew to some 2022 races after earning his license a couple of years ago.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” said Grosjean, who had grown “bored of waiting in the airports.”

He plans to fly to nearly all the races this year (“if the weather is good enough, I’ll be flying”) and jokes about being “commercial by the end of the year, so then I can take Roger (Penske). Roger can pay me to fly him around to races if things go bad with racing.”

Grosjean’s social media has been filled with posts about his new hobby, which afforded him the opportunity recently to take his wife to Key West for lunch from their home in the Miami area. The trip took 37 minutes there and 41 minutes on return and highlighted why Grosjean loves flying: “Freedom. Freedom to go anywhere you want, anytime you want. It’s the beauty of it. We can go to the Bahamas for a day if we want to. Anywhere. I think that’s just great to know that you can do whatever you want.”

It’s reminiscent of the cross-country trip across the Midwest in an RV that Grosjean took with his family during the summer of his 2021 rookie season.

“There’s one thing that I told my kids, and I told my friend about America, and for me, that’s the biggest difference between Europe and here, is here everything is possible,” said Grosjean (whose “Phoenix” nickname was derived from a brush with death in his final Formula One start). “If you have the wish, if you give yourself the possibility of doing it, everything is possible. It is different in Europe. Much more boundaries on the way. Much more steps that you need to do in a certain order. But if you want to be extraordinary (in the United States), if you want to do something different, you don’t need to do those steps because you can work through.

“Yeah, I like doing things, and when I do them, I like doing them well. But here I think just the opportunity of driving the RV, flying planes, for my kids to do whatever they want to do, we love that here. Yeah, it’s been the best discovery for us.”

The Swiss-born Frenchman already has flown himself to a race this year, jetting up the Florida coast for his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut last month. It was his debut as a Lamborghini factory driver, and his new deal will continue with the Twelve Hours of Sebring and possibly the Petit Le Mans while he also helps develop the automaker’s new hybrid prototype (LMDh) for next year.

Grosjean, who finished a disappointing 13th in the 2022 points standings with one podium for Andretti in his first full season, said IndyCar will remain his priority in 2024.

But he hopes the IndyCar schedule will afford racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance races and perhaps another his longest plane flight yet — a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed like that we get the weekend off from IndyCar,” said Grosjean, noting that 10 IndyCar drivers were in the Rolex 24. “I think it would make a lot of sense. I think for both series it’s amazing. If we can get Le Mans, it’s also amazing because it’s just cool.

“I remember Mario flying across the Atlantic doing Monaco and the Indy 500, and those guys, they were racing everywhere, Formula 3, Formula 2, Formula 1. They were doing the races in opening of the Formula 1 race, and I think that’s very cool for us. So yeah, looking forward to the project. There’s going to be a lot of development coming on. By the time we finish the IndyCar season, the LMDh will be here in the States, and that’s when I’m going to spend a lot of time on it.”