NHRA Season In Review: Top 10 stories of 2018

Photos and videos courtesy NHRA
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The 2018 National Hot Rod Association season was definitely one for the record books with several defining milestones being set.

With the 2019 season just six weeks away (February 8-10 in Pomona, California), let’s take a look back at the top 10 stories of the 2018 campaign:

1. Steve Torrence wins first career Top Fuel championship. If the Texas native needs a new nickname, “The Dominator” would definitely fit the bill, given how he roared through the 2018 season. Torrence won 11 races (capturing every final round he appeared in during the season), nearly half of the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule. That was just an appetizer, however. Torrence became the first driver in NHRA history to win all six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs – and it did so in, of course, dominating fashion. Torrence Racing is a family affair and Steve’s father, Billy, even got into the act, winning his first career NHRA Top Fuel race in Brainerd, Minnesota. In classy fashion, and even with all his own accomplishments, Steve said watching his dad win was the best moment of the entire season for him.

2. Champions end the season with a cherry on top. For the first time in NHRA history, all four pro champions wrapped up the season by also winning the final race of the season at Pomona, California: Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), J.R. Todd (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

3. Most recent Pro Stock champs bid adieu. For the first time in history, the last two Pro Stock champions will not be returning to compete in the class in 2019, including defending Pro Stock champ Tanner Gray. 2017 Pro Stock champ Bo Butner announced he will exit Pro Stock and return to his NHRA Sportsman Racing roots for 2019, while Gray will leave NHRA racing entirely to pursue his long-held dream of racing in NASCAR. Gray became the youngest champion in NHRA history at 19 years and six months of age.

4. U.S. Army leaves NHRA, Don Schumacher Racing. The U.S. Army, which has been the primary sponsor for eight-time Top Fuel champion Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher for nearly two decades and also had an extensive support engagement with NHRA at national events, will not be back in 2019. The military service branch, long a fan favorite at those national events with things such as climbing walls and military drills, was also an associate sponsor for Schumacher’s teammates, three-time champ Antron Brown and Leah Pritchett. It’s unfortunate that the Army is leaving, as it brought a great deal of good will to the sport – and helped in recruiting new soldiers. There still is no word on who will replace the Army on Schumacher’s car, let alone Brown’s and Pritchett’s rides, as well.

5. Pro Stock loses one-quarter of a season. NHRA has tried for the last several years to increase the attention and popularity of the Pro Stock class through a variety of measures, including doing away with the monstrous hood scoops that the class was once known for, as well as adding electronic fuel injection and other technical changes. Unfortunately, fans still didn’t gravitate to the so-called “door slammers” like they used to in the 1980s and 1990s. Sadly, because costs have become so high, the NHRA decided at the end of the 2018 season that it will reduce the 2019 schedule from a full 24-race slate to just 18 races (after initially cutting back to 16 races before having second thoughts). While the reduction in number of races will arguably save teams some money, it’s feared that the reduction in the schedule will only further cut into the already waning popularity of the class.

6. The passing of Tom “Mongoose” McEwen. The sport lost one of its true legends on June 10 when Tom “Mongoose” McEwen passed away at the age of 81 due to complications from colon cancer surgery. Voted 16th on the NHRA’s 50 Top Drivers List back in 2001, McEwen was best known for his legendary partnership with Don “Snake” Prudhomme. Together, the pair became one of the greatest attractions the sport has ever seen, particularly when they were both sponsored by Mattel’s Hot Wheels toys. “Tom was like a brother to me,” Prudhomme told NBC Sports. “We fought, argued like hell, and we laughed like hell, like brothers. That was pretty much our whole 60 years together. That was always a cool thing, our relationship. We spoke on the phone every day for 60 years.” Prudhomme then added, “Every time my name, Snake, comes up, I’ll remember it because there’s a Mongoose that’s attached to it. We’re forever embedded in each other.”

Fellow drag racing legend Kenny Bernstein added about McEwen, telling NBC Sports, “The Mongoose was an icon in the sport.”

7. Robert Hight comes back from monster explosion and crash. Hight was in the running for his second consecutive NHRA Funny Car championship and third overall in 2018 when he suffered a horrendous motor explosion and resulting wicked crash into a retaining wall while crossing the finish line, while at the same time earning the win in the Countdown to the Championship event at Gateway Motorsports Park in suburban St. Louis. Hight suffered a broken left collarbone that would otherwise likely have sidelined most other drivers for several weeks. Instead, after quick surgery, Hight was back running – and winning at Dallas – less than two weeks later. Unfortunately, Hight’s dreams fell short, as he wound up second in the final season standings to first-time champ JR Todd in 2018.

8. For Clay Millican, it was second verse, better than the first. Millican enjoyed the best year of his Top Fuel career in 2018. Not only did he earn two of his three career national event wins, he finished a career-best third in the final standings. But one thing in particular stands out above everything else: after setting the Top Fuel national elapsed time record (3.631 seconds) late in the 2017 season, Millican kicked things off in even better fashion in the 2018 season-opening race at Pomona, California, re-setting the national record with a 3.628-second run.

9. Hector Arana Jr. makes Pro Stock Motorcycle history. The kings of two-wheel drag racing have been trying for close to a decade to break the magical 200 mph barrier. But it wasn’t until March 16, 2018, that someone actually did it, as Hector Arana Jr. laid down a perfect 200.23 mph run during qualifying at Gainesville (Florida) Raceway. It was a great way for Arana Jr. to kick off the PSM 16-race schedule, and he ultimately wound up finishing a career-best third in the final standings behind champion Matt Smith and second-ranked Eddie Krawiec.

10. Even at 69 years old, John Force still has it. After going more than one full year without a win, 16-time Funny Car champion John Force finally wound up back in the winner’s circle after capturing the 149th national event victory of his career in Denver in July. Force, who turned 69 on May 4, had a very rough start to the season, with two motor explosions in the season-opening race at Pomona, California, crashed into Jonnie Lindberg in Phoenix and then wrecked in Chicago. Force finished ninth in the final standings.

And a few others worth mentioning:

A. Pro Stock driver Chris McGaha was convinced some of his chief competitors were playing fast and loose with fuel systems. As a result, early in the season, McGaha convinced NHRA to allow him to purchase fuel for the entire class, to make sure there was no impropriety or performance-enhancing additives in the gas. While McGaha’s gas-buying initiative seemed to quiet fuel system cheating accusations, it didn’t totally end all cheating charges. At the Seattle race in early August, McGaha took the unusual and extremely rare step of filing formal protests against the cars of Elite Motorsports teammates Jeg Coughlin Jr. (a five-time Pro Stock champion) and two-time champ Erica Enders. McGaha alleged that the motors in both opponents’ cars were larger than rules allowed. After three hours of tearing down both motors, NHRA officials found they were within tolerance and overruled McGaha’s protest.

B. Coughlin Jr. had a strong comeback in 2018, finishing second to Tanner Gray. With Gray not returning to the NHRA ranks in 2019, Coughlin Jr. is an early favorite to potentially earn his sixth career Pro Stock crown.

C. Glen Cromwell became just the fifth president in NHRA history on January 1, 2018, succeeding Peter Clifford, who moved into a newly-created role as Chief Executive Officer of the sanctioning body. Overall, it was a relatively quiet first year in office for Cromwell.

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2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Motocross season opener: Jett Lawrence rockets to the top

SuperMotocross Rankings season opener
Align Media
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As the SuperMotocross season heads outdoors, the NBC Power Rankings change significantly with results from the Motocross opener at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. The Power Rankings assign a numeric value to each individual moto (90 points maximum) as well as the overall standings (100 points) and averages that number over the past 45 days. Included in the Power Rankings are results from the final five Supercross rounds, which fit into that 45-day timeframe.

Dylan Ferrandis finished on the podium in his first race back after experience a concussion in Supercross Round 4 at Houston. – Align Media

It didn’t take long for Jett Lawrence to rocket to the top of the SuperMotocross rankings – only about 74 minutes in fact. Lawrence dominated his first moto and beat his teammate Chase Sexton, the 2023 Monster Energy Supercross champion, to the line by 10 seconds. He had to fight a little harder for the second moto win as Sexton stalked him throughout the race and ended up less than a second behind.

Beginning this week, we have added the SuperMotocross points’ ranking beside the rider’s name and in one fell swoop, Lawrence went from being unranked in the 450 class to 26th. To qualify for the inaugural SuperMotocross’ guaranteed 20 positions that automatically make the gate for the three-race championship series, Lawrence needs to be inside the top 20 in combined Supercross and Motocross points. The bubble is currently held by Justin Starling and Lawrence needs to make up 44 points to overtake him.

Sexton’s second-place finish in the overall standings at Fox Raceway marked his ninth consecutive top-five finish. After the race, Sexton compared the battle he had with Lawrence to the one he experienced with Eli Tomac in last year’s Pro Motocross championship. These two riders had a significant advantage over the field in Pala, but there is still a lot of racing to be completed.

MORE: Jett Lawrence wastes no time, wins first 450 race

After missing 13 rounds to a concussion, Dylan Ferrandis told NBC Sports that he was not going to do anything risky in the season opener at Fox Raceway. If he dialed back his effort at all, one would be hard-pressed to notice. He finished third in both motos and was third in the overall standings. Ferrandis began the weekend just outside the top 20 in combined SuperMotocross points and climbed to 19th. In the next few weeks, he will get a little more breathing room over the cutline and then challenge for wins.

Adam Cianciarulo’s three-race streak of top-five finishes ended with a sixth-place overall at Fox Raceway, but that was enough to advance him one position in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings and land him eighth in the combined points standings. His individual motos were moderate, but Cianciarulo is still battling the effects of injury and a nagging loss of strength in his wrist.

Aaron Plessinger returned from injury in the Supercross season finale to finish second at Salt Lake City. He added another top-five to his season total and now has six of those in the 13 rounds he’s made. With Ken Roczen and Eli Tomac not currently racing in Motocross, Plessinger has an opportunity to rise to the third seeding in short order.

450 Rankings

This
Week
Driver (SMX rank) Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
1. Jett Lawrence (26) 93.33 NA
2. Chase Sexton (1) 92.36 1 -1
3. Dylan Ferrandis (19) 89.00 NA
4. Adam Cianciarulo (8) 82.89 5 1
5. Aaron Plessinger (5) 81.20 9 4
6. Justin Hill (9)
Not racing MX
79.75 8 2
7. Ken Roczen (4)
injured | Not racing MX
79.13 3 -4
8. Jose Butron (30) 75.67 NA
9. Lorenzo Locurcio (29) 75.00 NA
10. Eli Tomac (2)
injured
74.50 2 -8
11. Dean Wilson (10)
Not racing MX
72.88 7 -4
12. Cooper Webb (3) 71.17 6 -6
13. Jerry Robin (32) 70.33 NA
14. Justin Barcia (6)
injured
70.00 4 -10
15. Kyle Chisholm (15) 65.36 11 -4
16. Dante Oliveira (36) 65.00 NA
17. Shane McElrath (11)
Not racing MX
63.63 12 -5
18. Ryan Surratt (38) 63.33 NA
19. Josh Hill (13)
Not racing MX
62.38 13 -6
20. Justin Starling (20)
Not racing MX
62.13 19 -1

Motocross 450 Points


A bad start to Moto 1 at Fox Raceway was not enough to deter Hunter Lawrence. Neither was the fact that he was riding with sore ribs after experiencing a practice crash earlier in the week. He was a distant 10th to start the first race and for most of the 30 minutes, it seemed he would finish off the podium. Lawrence did not win the 250 East Supercross championship by giving in to hopelessness or pain, however.

Lawrence picked off one rider and then another until he found the battle for the top five in front of him at the halfway point. Once the field started to lap riders, Lawrence used the opportunity to continue forward through the grid. He passed third-place Jo Shimoda with two laps remaining and challenged Maximus Vohland for second on the final trip around Fox Raceway, but had to settle for the final spot on the podium. Lawrence dominated Moto 2 and claimed the overall victory in Pala.

Justin Cooper made his first start of the season at Fox Raceway and earned enough NBC Power Average points to climb to second. Partly this was due to consistently strong runs in both motos and a 5-4 that gave him the fifth position overall, but he is also not weighed down with moderate Supercross results. It will take a week or two to see where his strength lands him on the grid.

Motocross 250 Points

In only his third Pro Motocross National, Haiden Deegan scored a second-place finish in the overall standings. – Align Media

RJ Hampshire may feel he has something to prove after finishing second to Jett Lawrence in the 250 SX West division. He certainly rode like that was the case in Moto 1 and easily outpaced the field on his way to victory lane. In Moto 2, he crashed twice on Lap 1 and dropped back to 39th. It took half of the race to get inside the top 20 and salvage points. By the end of the race, he was 11th and while that was enough to get him on the overall podium, it cost him points in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings.

Haiden Deegan surprised the field in Houston in his 250 Supercross debut by finishing fifth. At the time, he said his strong result was because there were no expectations. He echoed that statement after the Motocross season opener. His second-place finish in the overall standings was enough to project him five positions up the SuperMotocross Rankings. In 11 rounds in the combined series, Deegan has earned seven top-fives and a worst finish of eighth.

Jo Shimoda did not make his first Supercross race of 2023 until late in the season. He finished fourth on the hybrid track of Atlanta, which had some similar elements to Fox Raceway. His fourth-place finish in Moto 1 of the Motocross opener made it seem likely he would score an overall podium, but a sixth in the second race cost him points in the NBC Power Rankings in a field that promises to be extremely tight.

250 Rankings

This
Week
Driver (SMX rank) Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
1. Hunter Lawrence (1) 89.56 2 1
2. Justin Cooper (42) 84.67 NA
3. RJ Hampshire (3) 83.67 3 0
3. Haiden Deegan (4) 83.67 8 5
5. Jo Shimoda (16) 82.33 7 2
6. Guillem Farres (46) 79.33 NA
7. Levi Kitchen (6) 79.11 5 -2
8. Max Anstie (5) 77.83 12 4
9. Max Vohland (8) 77.50 14 5
10. Enzo Lopes (10) 76.00 11 1
11. Mitchell Oldenburg (13) 74.25 16 5
12. Carson Mumford (19) 71.22 17 5
13. Jordon Smith (7) 70.56 9 -4
14. Ryder DiFrancesco (48) 70.33 NA
15. Chris Blose (12) 67.00 13 -2
16. Chance Hymas (27) 66.00 19 3
17. Tom Vialle (9) 65.78 18 1
18. Jett Reynolds (55) 63.33 NA
19. Michael Mosiman (28) 62.33 20 1
20. Garrett Marchbanks (64) 59.00 NA

* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner in Supercross and overall winner in Motocross. It awards 90 points for each Moto, Heat and Triple Crown win. The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days.

POWER RANKINGS AFTER SX FINALE AT SALT LAKE CITY: Chase Sexton ends with win
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 15 AT NASHVILLE: Eli Tomac back on top
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 14 AT NEW JERSEY: The top 20 settle in
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 13 AT ATLANTA: Justin Barcia leapfrogs the Big 3
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 12 AT GLENDALE: Eli Tomac gains momentum
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 11 AT SEATTLE: Cooper Webb, Eli Tomac overtake Chase Sexton
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 10 AT DETROIT: Chase Sexton narrowly leads Webb
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 8 AT DAYTONA: Chase Sexton unseats Eli Tomac
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 7 AT ARLINGTON: Jason Anderson narrowly trails Eli Tomac
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 6 AT OAKLAND: Perfect night keeps Eli Tomac first
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 5 AT TAMPA: Chase Sexton, Cooper Webb close in
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 4 AT HOUSTON: Eli Tomac rebounds from A2 crash, retakes lead
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 3 AT ANAHEIM 2: Consistency makes Ken Roczen king
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 2 AT SAN DIEGO: Ken Roczen moves up, Chase Sexton falls
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1 AT ANAHEIM 1: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence gain an early advantage