New NHRA champs cap off 2018 with season-ending wins

2018 NHRA champs and Pomona 2 winners, from left, JR Todd, Tanner Gray, Matt Smith and Steve Torrence. Photos and videos courtesy NHRA
0 Comments

JR Todd captured his first NHRA Funny Car championship and Matt Smith earned his third career Pro Stock Motorcycle title, wrapping up the 2018 drag racing season in Sunday’s Auto Club Finals in Pomona, California.

As if adding an exclamation mark to their championships, both Todd and Smith also won their respective final round matchups.

Likewise was the case for Tanner Gray, who clinched the Pro Stock title Saturday, becoming the youngest pro-class champ in history at just 19 years old, and then went on to win Sunday’s final round, as well as Steve Torrence, who clinched his first Top Fuel championship two weeks ago and then came back to win Sunday’s race for an encore.

Todd gave team owner Connie Kalitta his second Funny Car crown in four seasons, the other being from Del Worsham in 2015.

Smith, meanwhile, capped off his third PSM championship by making the fastest run in the class’s history (201.22 mph).

It also marked the first time in NHRA history that each of the season’s champions also won the season finale.

Let’s break down each of the four pro classes from Sunday’s finals:

In Top Fuel: Torrence had little to gain, having already been crowned the series’ champion in Sin City.

But Torrence wasn’t done winning in what has been an outstanding season, earning his 10th victory of 2018, becoming the first driver in NHRA history to win all six races in the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Torrence won the race with a 3.702 second effort at 330.07 mph, defeating Tony Schumacher’s 3.700 at 331.61 mph run in the final round.

“It has truly been unbelievable,” Torrence stated. “To go out and do what those Capco Boys have accomplished is solely by the grace of the good Lord.

“We’ve won some rounds that we probably should not have won. We are truly blessed to be able to do what we’re doing. We’re going to be in the history books. Nobody can beat us; they can only tie us. That’s a pretty cool stat to put behind your name.”

In Funny Car: Todd got a big break when 2017 Funny Car champ Robert Hight lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations, allowing Todd to clinch the title.

Todd then went on to win the overall race with a 3.872 second, 329.10 mph run over race runner-up Tommy Johnson Jr.

Todd ended the season with a 194-point edge in the final rankings over runner-up Hight.

“People kept asking, ‘what do you need to do to clinch?’,” Todd said. “I’m like, we need to win the race. We need to not worry about what we need to clinch it. Seeing Robert smoke the tires first round was instant relief.

“My crew was racing smart and the Yella Fellas (his crew’s nickname) do an awesome job preparing the thing today. They stayed focused all day long because there were a lot of distractions around our pit area and they did their job.

“The other teams at Kalitta Motorsports came over to help and I can’t thank them enough. It’s a huge family over there and we’ve all got each other’s backs and it’s awesome to have that kind of support.”

Todd won six races in the 24-race NHRA schedule, including three in the six-race Countdown playoffs, and reached the final round in two other playoff events.

In Pro Stock: Gray, a third-generation racer, began competing in Pro Stock just last season and roared through to what likely will be the first of several championships still to come.

Gray (6.519 seconds at 211.86 mph) defeated Drew Skillman (fouled) in the final round to earn his eighth win of the season and 13th of his career.

“This was probably the most relaxed Sunday I’ve had ever,” Gray said. “For me, I just wanted to enjoy the moment. That was the last time I was going to race with a lot of those guys.

“We wrapped up the championship during qualifying and I just wanted to enjoy it. We had already won seven races and that’s really good and obviously I wanted to win more but at the same time I wanted to enjoy the time I had with the guys and make the most out of it.”

Gray defeated father Shane Gray in the first round Sunday, then trounced Erica Enders and Jason Line before facing Skillman in the finals.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle: Over the course of the 16-race PSM schedule, Smith defeated the best of the best, including holding off defending champ Eddie Krawiec, as well as former champs Andrew Hines, LE Tonglet, Jerry Savoie and others to earn title No. 3.

Smith’s national record put icing on the cake as he defeated Krawiec to capture both the race and championship. Smith won four races this season, including three in the Countdown.

“Man, we went through a lot today,” Smith said. “With the airline breaking in the first round and in the second round the transmission broke on us going through the lights.

“My guys did their job and we fixed all of the stuff that broke and ended up putting up three 200 mph runs today. We are having the time of our life right now though.”

The 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season will kick off with the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals Feb. 7-10 at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

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

FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

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

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

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

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

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

FINAL ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Steve Torrence, 3.702 seconds, 330.07 mph def. Tony Schumacher, 3.700 seconds, 331.61 mph.

FUNNY CAR: J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 3.872, 329.10 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 3.889, 327.51.

PRO STOCK: Tanner Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.519, 211.86 def. Drew Skillman, Camaro, Foul – Red Light.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Matt Smith, EBR, 6.765, 201.22 def. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.812, 198.35.

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

FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Blake Alexander, 3.702, 328.70 def. Mike Salinas, 3.736, 325.22; Antron Brown, 3.720, 331.12 def. Doug Kalitta, 3.727, 325.85; Bill Litton, 3.979, 309.56 def. Leah Pritchett, Foul – Centerline; Clay Millican, 3.748, 327.35 def. Terry McMillen, 3.823, 313.88; Brittany Force, 3.702, 330.88 def. Shawn Reed, 3.803, 318.84; Steve Torrence, 3.995, 322.88 def. Cameron Ferre, 10.300, 75.44; Billy Torrence, 3.706, 327.27 def. Richie Crampton, 3.743, 325.22; Tony Schumacher, 3.694, 332.34 def. Scott Palmer, 3.736, 327.27; QUARTERFINALS — Alexander, 3.744, 328.94 def. Millican, 3.736, 327.51; S. Torrence, 3.674, 331.20 def. B. Torrence, 3.712, 329.10; Schumacher, 4.667, 156.10 def. Litton, Broke; Force, 3.687, 333.00 def. Brown, 4.159, 200.62; SEMIFINALS — Schumacher, 3.705, 332.26 def. Alexander, 3.764, 322.88; S. Torrence, 3.705, 328.78 def. Force, 3.708, 332.18; FINAL — S. Torrence, 3.702, 330.07 def. Schumacher, 3.700, 331.61.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.988, 316.52 def. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 5.383, 143.86; J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 3.938, 315.64 def. Jim Campbell, Dodge Charger, 9.664, 74.83; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.904, 325.61 def. Ray Martin, Camry, Broke; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.912, 255.00 def. Jeff Arend, Chevy Monte Carlo, 8.366, 61.13; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.905, 327.59 def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.034, 281.36; Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.941, 328.78 def. Bob Bode, Mustang, 5.304, 138.40; John Force, Camaro, 3.955, 330.47 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.444, 201.76; Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.918, 326.71 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.115, 255.19; QUARTERFINALS — Todd, 3.952, 321.50 def. Tasca III, 3.962, 323.12; Capps, 3.921, 323.04 def. Langdon, 3.967, 322.81; Johnson Jr., 3.913, 324.90 def. C. Force, 3.942, 321.50; Beckman, 3.936, 318.99 def. J. Force, 4.023, 321.81; SEMIFINALS — Todd, 3.889, 328.14 def. Capps, 3.932, 316.97; Johnson Jr., 3.913, 325.06 def. Beckman, 3.919, 322.42; FINAL — Todd, 3.872, 329.10 def. Johnson Jr., 3.889, 327.51.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Bo Butner, Chevy Camaro, 6.522, 212.26 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 11.592, 77.76; Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.552, 210.64 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.546, 211.39; Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.531, 210.57 def. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.549, 211.00; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.525, 212.26 def. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.608, 209.88; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.515, 211.59 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 11.796, 75.91; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.517, 211.13 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.568, 211.03; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.518, 212.19 def. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 9.984, 92.09; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.516, 211.96 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 12.694, 69.89; QUARTERFINALS — Line, 6.537, 212.03 def. Laughlin, 6.560, 210.87; T. Gray, 6.563, 210.73 def. Enders, 6.562, 211.23; Coughlin, 6.525, 211.39 def. Butner, 6.546, 211.86; Skillman, 6.535, 210.77 def. Anderson, 6.548, 212.33; SEMIFINALS — T. Gray, 6.535, 211.63 def. Line, 13.224, 65.77; Skillman, 6.534, 211.10 def. Coughlin, Broke; FINAL — T. Gray, 6.519, 211.86 def. Skillman, Foul – Red Light.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.837, 193.99 def. Joey Gladstone, Buell, Foul – Red Light; Hector Arana, 6.877, 197.45 def. Chip Ellis, Harley-Davidson, Foul – Red Light; Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.865, 195.87 def. Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 6.892, 194.27; LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.846, 196.62 def. Ryan Oehler, Buell, 6.927, 194.46; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.822, 197.13 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.976, 192.36; Hector Arana Jr, 6.827, 197.28 def. Freddie Camarena, Suzuki, 7.029, 192.77; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.802, 197.54 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.937, 192.66; Matt Smith, 8.367, 111.80 def. Angie Smith, Buell, Broke; QUARTERFINALS — M. Smith, 6.795, 200.29 def. Arana, 6.869, 195.22; Arana Jr, 6.944, 193.77 def. Sampey, 6.921, 194.52; Tonglet, 6.866, 196.36 def. Hines, 6.859, 196.27; Krawiec, 6.793, 198.20 def. Savoie, 6.873, 194.46; SEMIFINALS — M. Smith, 6.766, 200.02 def. Tonglet, 7.128, 156.28; Krawiec, 6.862, 197.22 def. Arana Jr, 6.919, 196.22; FINAL — M. Smith, 6.765, 201.22 def. Krawiec, 6.812, 198.35.

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

FINAL SEASON POINT STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 2,900; 2. Tony Schumacher, 2,596; 3. Clay Millican, 2,573; 4. Leah Pritchett, 2,456; 5. Brittany Force, 2,417; 6. Antron Brown, 2,378; 7.  Mike Salinas, 2,308; 8. Doug Kalitta, 2,308; 9. Terry McMillen, 2,301; 10. Scott Palmer, 2,231.

FUNNY CAR: 1. J.R. Todd, 2,726; 2. Robert Hight, 2,532; 3. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,519; 4. Ron Capps, 2,510; 5. Tim Wilkerson, 2,418; 6. Courtney Force, 2,409; 7. Jack Beckman, 2,405; 8. Matt Hagan, 2,371; 9. John Force, 2,356; 10. Shawn Langdon, 2,285.

PRO STOCK: 1. Tanner Gray, 2,758; 2. Jeg Coughlin, 2,571; 3. Drew Skillman, 2,559; 4. Erica Enders, 2,525; 5. Jason Line, 2,472; 6. Vincent Nobile, 2,452; 7. Greg Anderson, 2,418; 8. Bo Butner, 2,379; 9. Deric Kramer, 2,268; 10. Chris McGaha, 2,184.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Matt Smith, 2,666; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 2,627; 3. Hector Arana Jr, 2,536; 4. LE Tonglet, 2,532; 5. Jerry Savoie, 2,464; 6. Andrew Hines, 2,450; 7. Angelle Sampey, 2,349; 8. Angie Smith, 2,303; 9. Steve Johnson, 2,290; 10. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,258.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

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

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
0 Comments

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.