NHRA Texas winners: Steve Torrence, Robert Hight, Tanner Gray, LE Tonglet

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The six-race NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoffs is turning into an instant replay of sorts.

In the finals of Sunday’s AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals, Texas native Steve Torrence continued his torrid run, capturing his third straight Countdown win – and eighth overall in the first 21 races of the 24-race season – at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas, south of Dallas.

It was the first time Torrence – who is chasing his first-ever Top Fuel championship – has ever won a Top Fuel race at his home track.

But Torrence was just part of the instant replay. Robert Hight, fresh off surgery to repair a broken collarbone suffered in the previous race two weeks ago, won his second straight race of the Countdown and extended his lead in the Funny Car point standings.

Hight is going for his second consecutive Funny Car championship and the third of his career. In addition, no driver has won back-to-back Funny Car titles since his boss, John Force, did so in 2001 and 2002.

And Pro Stock points leader Tanner Gray earned his second straight Countdown win, while L.E. Tonglet won in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Sunday’s NHRA winners at Texas Motorplex: From left: LE Tonglet, Tanner Gray, Steve Torrence and Robert Hight.

In Top Fuel: Torrence made a pass of 3.786 seconds at 325.92 mph, defeating Terry McMillen (3.826 seconds at 321.04 mph) in the final round to capture the 24th victory of his Top Fuel career.

Torrence now owns a 103-point lead over Clay McMillan, who qualified No. 1 for this weekend’s race, in the Top Fuel standings with three races remaining.

“We were just here to go rounds,” Torrence said after claiming the “Wally” winner’s trophy. “I don’t have a Top Fuel championship. I have a Top Alcohol championship and the year that I won that I won at Dallas.

“We’ve been trying to get it done here since 2010. This is a check off my bucket list to be able to come to Dallas and win. I couldn’t be prouder to pull off a victory in front of everyone that was here this weekend.”

Torrence rolled past Bill Litton, Blake Alexander and eight-time world champ Tony Schumacher in the first three rounds of eliminations en route to his final round match with McMillen.

McMillen, meanwhile, reached the final round match with Torrence by defeating, in order, Mike Salinas, defending world champ Brittany Force and Millican before facing McMillen.

In Funny Car: Hight is still sore from the broken collarbone he suffered when the engine in his car exploded and he hit the retaining wall hard two weeks ago in the final round of the NHRA event at Gateway Motorsports Park in suburban St. Louis. But he didn’t let the pain stop him from winning at Texas for the second straight year and the fourth time of his career at the Motorplex.

Hight rolled to a 3.955 second, 325.69 mph victory over J.R. Todd (3.984 seconds at 319.52 mph). It’s Hight’s 45th career Funny Car win.

Hight, who underwent surgery 3 days after the Gateway crash and was only medically cleared to race this past Thursday, now holds a 50-point lead in the standings over Todd.

“This AAA team was just flawless,” Hight said. “We just got better all weekend as we went. I promise you that we will celebrate tonight because we’re going to make up for the last one.

“That was one of the biggest rounds I’ve ever raced right there. J.R. Todd is No. 2 in points, he was 30 behind me going into the final and had I lost I’d be 10 ahead; which isn’t much. Luckily we get to do it again next week.”

Hight will go for his third straight win in the Countdown this coming weekend in suburban Charlotte, North Carolina.

Hight rolled through Jim Campbell, Tim Wilkerson and Bob Tasca III en route to his 71st career final round appearance, vs. Todd.

Todd, meanwhile, beat John Hale, Jack Beckman and No. 1 qualifier Tommy Johnson Jr. on his way to his second final round of the Countdown.

In Pro Stock: Gray (6.622 seconds at 207.62 mph), knocked off No. 1 qualifier Jeg Coughlin Jr. (6.636 seconds at 207.82 mph) in the final round to earn the event win.

Gray rolled past Deric Kramer, Greg Anderson and Matt Hartford to earn his seventh win of the season and 12th of his career.

“We’ve been struggling with qualifying it seems like,” Gray said. “Really, for whatever reason, we’ve been able to pull it out on Sunday.

“Some of it being luck, while others it’s just making good runs and beating the other guy in the lane. It’s awesome to have the group of guys that I have around me.”

Gray is bidding to become the youngest-ever champion in NHRA history this season.

Coughlin Jr., a five-time world champion, defeated Val Smeland, Drew Skillman and Vincent Nobile to climb to the No. 3 spot in the points.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle: Tonglet rolled to his fourth win of 2018 and the 20th of his career.

Tonglet (6.892 seconds at 194.80 mph) defeated his boss, team owner Jerry Savoie (6.907 seconds at 193.88 mph) in Sunday’s final round.

By doing so, Tonglet – who rolled past Andrew Hines, Angelle Sampey and defending world champ and No. 1 qualifier this weekend, Eddie Krawiec – moved pass Matt Smith to take the lead in the PSM standings.

“It was fun in the pit while we were trying to get the bikes cooled off (after semi-finals),” Tonglet said of himself and Savoie. “Once we came up to the start line though I didn’t even look at him and he didn’t look at me. It was just all business.

“We’re leading the points now though and we’re not going to look back.”

The next event – the 22nd of the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series – is this coming weekend (Oct. 12-14), the NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, North Carolina.

Here’s all the final statistics of Sunday’s eliminations:

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

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

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

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

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

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FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Steve Torrence, 3.786 seconds, 325.92 mph def. Terry McMillen, 3.826 seconds, 321.04 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.955, 325.69 def. J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 3.984, 319.52.

PRO STOCK: Tanner Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.622, 207.62 def. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.636, 207.82.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.892, 194.80 def. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.907, 193.88.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Blake Alexander, 3.758, 325.61 def. Billy Torrence, 4.604, 166.89; Antron Brown, 3.777, 323.43 def. Doug Kalitta, 3.830, 316.82; Brittany Force, 3.762, 330.07 def. Scott Palmer, 3.839, 323.97; Clay Millican, 3.744, 328.54 def. Richie Crampton, 3.784, 314.83; Steve Torrence, 3.764, 327.43 def. Bill Litton, 8.518, 63.50; Tony Schumacher, 3.747, 325.69 def. Shawn Reed, 3.900, 322.34; Terry McMillen, 3.800, 321.19 def. Mike Salinas, 3.807, 324.36; Leah Pritchett, 3.831, 324.20 def. Kebin Kinsley, 4.548, 172.45; QUARTERFINALS — S. Torrence, 3.800, 323.35 def. Alexander, 4.049, 232.91; McMillen, 3.819, 320.81 def. Force, 4.334, 227.69; Schumacher, 3.817, 323.89 def. Brown, 4.151, 241.15; Millican, 3.783, 321.50 def. Pritchett, 4.228, 201.91; SEMIFINALS — S. Torrence, 3.779, 321.73 def. Schumacher, 4.917, 166.64; McMillen, 3.816, 324.20 def. Millican, 3.855, 289.76; FINAL — S. Torrence, 3.786, 325.92 def. McMillen, 3.826, 321.04.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.998, 319.37 def. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.058, 317.12; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.981, 324.44 def. Terry Haddock, Mustang, 5.079, 150.15; Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.007, 314.09 def. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 6.399, 103.46; J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.982, 321.35 def. John Hale, Chevy Impala, 5.554, 129.49; Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.969, 317.27 def. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.985, 318.17; Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.942, 320.05 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 6.521, 101.08; John Force, Camaro, 3.986, 325.30 def. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.024, 314.39; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.015, 310.27 def. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 4.495, 217.60; QUARTERFINALS — Johnson Jr., 3.937, 322.65 def. Pedregon, 4.036, 303.78; Todd, 3.991, 318.69 def. Beckman, 4.055, 260.36; Hight, 3.954, 321.12 def. Wilkerson, 3.990, 319.60; Tasca III, 4.021, 304.39 def. J. Force, 4.000, 325.77; SEMIFINALS — Hight, 3.962, 316.75 def. Tasca III, 4.323, 251.34; Todd, 3.952, 320.89 def. Johnson Jr., 3.964, 321.58; FINAL — Hight, 3.955, 325.69 def. Todd, 3.984, 319.52.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Drew Skillman, Chevy Camaro, 6.618, 207.88 def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.637, 208.30; Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.626, 207.85 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.627, 207.66; Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.633, 207.08 def. Alex Laughlin, Dodge Dart, 6.617, 206.23; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.606, 207.59 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.631, 208.07; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.607, 207.56 def. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.648, 207.72; Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.642, 206.39 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.601, 207.56; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.621, 208.36 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 6.659, 206.51; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.624, 207.59 def. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.754, 205.57; QUARTERFINALS — Hartford, 6.631, 206.95 def. Delco, 6.683, 206.64; Gray, 6.636, 207.72 def. Anderson, 6.636, 208.10; Coughlin, 6.616, 208.39 def. Skillman, Foul – Red Light; Nobile, 6.630, 207.75 def. Enders, 6.635, 207.53; SEMIFINALS — Gray, 9.699, 94.96 def. Hartford, Foul – Red Light; Coughlin, 6.619, 208.17 def. Nobile, 6.634, 207.15; FINAL — Gray, 6.622, 207.62 def. Coughlin, 6.636, 207.82.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.944, 193.52 def. Joey Gladstone, Buell, 7.025, 191.13; Angie Smith, Buell, 6.937, 191.67 def. Ryan Oehler, Buell, 7.021, 191.70; LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.896, 195.36 def. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 7.138, 193.35; Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.972, 192.11 def. Hector Arana, Foul – Red Light; Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.915, 194.38 def. Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, Broke; Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 7.194, 189.47 def. Hector Arana Jr, 11.191, 73.65; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.890, 196.10 def. Anthony Vanetti, Buell, 7.147, 178.52; Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 7.045, 189.31 def. Matt Smith, 6.960, 195.14; QUARTERFINALS — Johnson, 6.942, 191.78 def. Clontz, 7.122, 188.67; Savoie, 7.011, 191.16 def. Stoffer, Foul – Red Light; Tonglet, 6.903, 195.39 def. Sampey, 6.968, 193.49; Krawiec, 6.915, 195.31 def. A. Smith, 8.826, 99.73; SEMIFINALS — Savoie, 6.927, 190.75 def. Johnson, 7.006, 189.95; Tonglet, 6.886, 194.86 def. Krawiec, 6.945, 194.97; FINAL — Tonglet, 6.892, 194.80 def. Savoie, 6.907, 193.88.

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UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 2,468; 2. Clay Millican, 2,365; 3. Tony Schumacher, 2,303; 4. Leah Pritchett, 2,244; 5. Antron Brown, 2,221; 6. Terry McMillen, 2,189; 7. Doug Kalitta, 2,169; 8. Mike Salinas, 2,150; 9. Brittany Force, 2,140; 10. Scott Palmer, 2,117.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, 2,387; 2. J.R. Todd, 2,337; 3. Tim Wilkerson, 2,254; 4. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,251; 5. Courtney Force, 2,232; 6. Ron Capps, 2,215; 7. Matt Hagan, 2,175; 8. Jack Beckman, 2,172; 9. John Force, 2,168; 10. Shawn Langdon, 2,120.

PRO STOCK: 1. Tanner Gray, 2,409; 2. Vincent Nobile, 2,320; 3. Jeg Coughlin, 2,319; 4. Drew Skillman, 2,275; 5. Greg Anderson, 2,266; 6. Erica Enders, 2,251; 7. Jason Line, 2,175; 8. Bo Butner, 2,154; 9. Deric Kramer, 2,136; 10. Chris McGaha, 2,096.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. LE Tonglet, 2,356; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 2,309; 3. Matt Smith, 2,308; 4. Hector Arana Jr, 2,253; 5. Jerry Savoie, 2,247; 6. Andrew Hines, 2,233; 7. Steve Johnson, 2,183; 8. Angie Smith, 2,168; 9. Angelle Sampey, 2,143; 10. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,125.

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IMSA’s 50th Anniversary Celebration: Why Sebring is so special to Bobby Rahal

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Bobby Rahal has driven in some of the biggest races in the world, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Rolex 24 Hours and, of course, winning the Indianapolis 500 as a driver in 1986 and in 2004 as a team owner.

But winning the 12 Hours of Sebring two years in a row (1987 and 1988), Rahal feels, is right up there in terms of his greatest accomplishments as a race car driver.

As IMSA celebrates its 50th anniversary, Rahal reflected on what racing at Sebring International Raceway has meant to him:

“To me, Sebring is the ultimate endurance race. Not as long as Daytona or Le Mans, but the demands put on a car and driver at Sebring are highly unusual.

“My father raced at Sebring in the late 60’s. To win that race two years in a row really meant something to me.

“While we’ve won a lot of other races, we’ve won just about everywhere, you name it. But for me personally, winning at Sebring those two years in a row was very special.”

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