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
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”