NHRA at Gateway: Torrence earns second playoff win; Hight wins but explodes

Photos and video courtesy NHRA
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The Steve Torrence Express continues to roll on.

The Texas native captured his second consecutive win in as many races of the six-race NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoffs on Sunday at Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis.

By capturing the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals, Torrence increases his points lead atop the Top Fuel standings from 50 to 70 points over Clay Millican.

It was a battle between Torrence and Millican in Sunday’s final round. Torrence and his Capco Contractors/Torrence Racing machine covered the 1,000-foot drag strip at 3.770 seconds at 323.66 mph, while Millican was a close second at 3.798 seconds at 320.28 mph.

The win is Torrence’s seventh win of the 2018 season in the first 20 races of the 24-race schedule. It was also the 23rd win of his NHRA career.

“This is going to be a really hard-fought war,” Torrence said after celebrating in victory circle. “I couldn’t have a better group of guys to be backing me up.

“I’m blessed and fortunate to be a part of that team right there and not drop the ball. I’m very confident going forward and this is all we could’ve asked for to start the Countdown.”

Torrence defeated Bill Litton, Mike Salinas and Leah Pritchett to reach the final round. Millican, meanwhile, defeated Shawn Reed, three-time world champion Antron Brown, and Pat Dakin.

In Funny Car, defending series champion Robert Hight continued moving forward in his bid to win two consecutive championships in a row and the third of his career.

But it was far from easy. After crossing the finish line in the final round to win the event, Hight suffered a massive engine explosion and then his Chevrolet Camaro made hard contact with the outside retaining wall.

Hight exited his car under his own power, but was transported to a local hospital for evaluation.

“First, we are happy Robert is okay,” team owner John Force said. “He went to a local hospital to be checked out and after being x-rayed and evaluated he was schedule to be released tonight.

“I’m glad Robert has the points lead and now we are going to rest and get ready for Dallas (the next race on the schedule in two weeks).”

Hight, who came into Sunday as the No. 1 qualifier in Funny Car, earned his third win of the season with a pass of 4.036 seconds at 276.29 mph, defeating Tim Wilkerson (4.413 seconds at 201.91 mph).

It’s also Hight’s 10th career Countdown to the Championship victory and the 44th overall win of his NHRA Funny Car career.

Of note: While Hight continues to excel, his John Force Racing teammates struggled for the second consecutive playoff race in Sunday’s finals. In Funny Car, Courtney Force and John Force (lost to Hight) both exited in the quarterfinals. Meanwhile, defending Top Fuel series champ Brittany Force lost in the first round for the second straight race, dropping into a tie for last among the 10 Countdown drivers in Top Fuel.

In Pro Stock, Tanner Gray earned his sixth win of the season and 11th of his career (6.567 seconds at 211.06 mph), defeating Drew Skillman (11.409 seconds at 78.68 mph).

Gray defeated Chris McGaha, two-time Pro Stock champ Erica Enders and Vincent Nobile to extend his points lead.

“During qualifying we didn’t run as well as we thought we should have,” Gray said. “We made nice runs, but we never got aggressive enough.

“It was cool to see everyone come in with their head on straight and fight back to get a win. I felt like all of us did a really good job of just going round-by-round.”

As for Skillman, he reached the final round for the second straight race, but remains winless for 2018. However, he moved up to third in the Pro Stock points after defeating Kenny Delco, defending Pro Stock world champ Bo Butner and No. 1 qualifier Jeg Coughlin Jr. before meeting Gray in the final round.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Matt Smith earned his second win of the season and 20th of his career in a very close final round battle.

Smith took the advantage at the starting line and covered the track in 6.877 seconds at 198.44 mph to opponent LE Tonglet’s 6.876 second run at 196.10 mph.

Smith is the new Pro Stock Motorcycle points leader after his third career win at Gateway. Prior to defeating Tonglet, Smith was victorious over Scotty Pollacheck, Joey Gladstone and No. 1 qualifier Chip Ellis.

“We hurt our motor on Friday night,” Matt Smith said. “Angie (Smith, wife) and I stayed up all night last night rebuilding it.

“The Harley’s got three bikes out here trying to whoop up on us but we’re going to try and do our best to stay focused and do our job. As long as we don’t have any part failures we will be fine.”

Tonglet reached his 27th career final round by defeating Jim Underdahl, Angie Smith and teammate Jerry Savoie.

The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series continues Oct. 4-7 with the third race in the Countdown to the Championship – and the 21st race of the 24-race season – the AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals at Texas Motorplex in Dallas.

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

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

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

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

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

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FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Steve Torrence, 3.770 seconds, 323.66 mph def. Clay Millican, 3.798 seconds, 320.28 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 4.036, 276.29 def. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.413, 201.91.

PRO STOCK: Tanner Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.567, 211.06 def. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 11.409, 78.68.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Matt Smith, EBR, 6.877, 198.44 def. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.867, 196.10.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Antron Brown, 3.728, 328.86 def. Doug Kalitta, 3.792, 323.58; Blake Alexander, 3.730, 330.72 def. Terry McMillen, 5.158, 137.69; Clay Millican, 3.758, 325.61 def. Shawn Reed, 5.084, 138.39; Pat Dakin, 3.814, 322.58 def. Billy Torrence, 4.589, 170.49; Steve Torrence, 3.751, 327.19 def. Bill Litton, 4.245, 211.66; Leah Pritchett, 5.568, 125.37 def. Scott Palmer, Broke; Tony Schumacher, 4.067, 257.73 def. Richie Crampton, 5.641, 115.95; Mike Salinas, 3.758, 324.36 def. Brittany Force, 4.483, 186.56; QUARTERFINALS — Dakin, 3.946, 286.13 def. Schumacher, 4.115, 270.43; Pritchett, 3.802, 322.73 def. Alexander, 8.032, 80.82; S. Torrence, 3.771, 325.30 def. Salinas, 9.692, 74.79; Millican, 3.803, 323.04 def. Brown, 3.842, 323.66; SEMIFINALS — Millican, 3.857, 310.41 def. Dakin, 7.703, 70.54; S. Torrence, 3.772, 325.22 def. Pritchett, 3.809, 322.11; FINAL — S. Torrence, 3.770, 323.66 def. Millican, 3.798, 320.28.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.999, 315.86 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Mustang, 3.952, 320.51; Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 3.925, 325.22 def. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.003, 321.50; Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.938, 324.75 def. Dale Creasy Jr., Dodge Stratus, 4.124, 295.34; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.992, 317.05 def. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.978, 316.23; Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.937, 329.02 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 13.179, 70.12; Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.348, 251.67 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.585, 201.19; J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.954, 318.69 def. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.997, 320.20; John Force, Camaro, 4.025, 322.96 def. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.523, 185.28; QUARTERFINALS — Todd, 4.064, 307.58 def. Pedregon, Foul – Red Light; Johnson Jr., 3.950, 323.50 def. Tasca III, 9.014, 82.83; Hight, 4.017, 313.07 def. J. Force, 4.043, 310.34; Wilkerson, 4.000, 315.19 def. C. Force, 4.051, 310.70; SEMIFINALS — Wilkerson, 5.186, 175.23 def. Todd, 6.100, 152.28; Hight, 3.945, 323.04 def. Johnson Jr., 4.008, 320.13; FINAL — Hight, 4.036, 276.29 def. Wilkerson, 4.413, 201.91.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.579, 211.49 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 18.901, 42.36; Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.546, 211.49 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.554, 211.43; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.544, 210.80 def. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 8.120, 122.07; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.545, 211.89 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.619, 209.46; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.546, 211.46 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 8.707, 109.64; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.536, 210.24 def. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.744, 204.63; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.553, 211.00 def. Charlie Westcott Jr., Ford Mustang, 6.746, 204.48; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.542, 210.60 def. Mark Hogan, Pontiac GXP, 6.943, 170.04; QUARTERFINALS — Gray, 6.568, 210.37 def. Enders, 6.599, 210.18; Skillman, 6.559, 211.66 def. Butner, 13.412, 63.70; Coughlin, 6.573, 210.54 def. Anderson, 6.591, 210.54; Nobile, 6.580, 210.57 def. Line, 10.660, 83.80; SEMIFINALS — Gray, 6.579, 210.54 def. Nobile, 6.597, 209.85; Skillman, 6.581, 211.63 def. Coughlin, 6.778, 207.62; FINAL — Gray, 6.567, 211.06 def. Skillman, 11.409, 78.68.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 7.138, 163.28 def. Hector Arana, Foul – Red Light; Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.925, 192.52 def. Hector Arana Jr, Broke; Chip Ellis, Harley-Davidson, 6.885, 194.77 def. Mark Paquette, Buell, 6.938, 190.86; LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.838, 195.90 def. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.953, 193.82; Joey Gladstone, Buell, 6.893, 194.58 def. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, Foul – Red Light; Matt Smith, 6.889, 197.31 def. Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 6.955, 193.07; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.889, 194.86 def. Ryan Oehler, Buell, 6.915, 194.66; Angie Smith, Buell, 6.879, 193.21 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.849, 194.80; QUARTERFINALS — Ellis, 6.863, 190.27 def. Sampey, 6.941, 190.83; Savoie, 6.897, 195.62 def. Hines, 6.968, 192.82; Tonglet, 6.864, 195.34 def. A. Smith, 13.648, 57.27; M. Smith, 6.869, 197.45 def. Gladstone, 6.940, 192.80; SEMIFINALS — Tonglet, 6.890, 195.65 def. Savoie, 6.924, 194.86; M. Smith, 6.879, 198.03 def. Ellis, 6.901, 194.63; FINAL — M. Smith, 6.877, 198.44 def. Tonglet, 6.867, 196.10.

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UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 2,346; 2. Clay Millican, 2,276; 3. Tony Schumacher, 2,225; 4. Leah Pritchett, 2,192; 5. Antron Brown, 2,169; 6. Doug Kalitta, 2,135; 7. Mike Salinas, 2,119; 8. Terry McMillen, 2,093; 9. (tie) Brittany Force, 2,085; Scott Palmer, 2,085.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, 2,270; 2. J.R. Todd, 2,240; 3. Courtney Force, 2,200; 4. Tim Wilkerson, 2,196; 5. Ron Capps, 2,182; 6. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,166; 7. Matt Hagan, 2,144; 8. John Force, 2,116; 9. Jack Beckman, 2,113; 10. Shawn Langdon, 2,086.

PRO STOCK: 1. Tanner Gray, 2,296; 2. Vincent Nobile, 2,244; 3. Drew Skillman, 2,222; 4. Jeg Coughlin, 2,215; 5. Greg Anderson, 2,206; 6. Erica Enders, 2,192; 7. Jason Line, 2,133; 8. Bo Butner, 2,120; 9. Deric Kramer, 2,104; 10. Chris McGaha, 2,064.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Matt Smith, 2,263; 2. LE Tonglet, 2,242; 3. Eddie Krawiec, 2,222; 4. Hector Arana Jr, 2,214; 5. Andrew Hines, 2,201; 6. Jerry Savoie, 2,154; 7. Angie Smith, 2,115; 8. Steve Johnson, 2,108; 9. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,094; 10. Angelle Sampey, 2,085.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.