2019 NHRA champions: Hight, Torrence, Enders, Hines

5 Comments

Robert Hight further cemented himself as one of drag racing’s all-time greats when he clinched his third career NHRA Funny Car championship in Sunday’s Auto Club NHRA Finals in Ponoma, California.

Having previously won the Funny Car title in 2009 and 2017, Hight is well-aware of what it feels like to be crowned the champion. But make no mistake, for Hight, winning title No. 3 is just as fun as winning the first one.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Hight told NBC Sports. “I honestly feel that this is probably the most special championship that I’ve won, because of how we performed all year long. From start to finish, we’ve had the best car, and we just had consistency and really did well all year long.”

Indeed, Hight was incredibly consistent in 2019, most notably during the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs, which he led from start to finish.

With his third title forever enshrined in the NHRA record books, Hight – who has 52 career Funny Car victories – has now joined a very special club featuring some of the best racers in NHRA history.

“It’s pretty cool to me that now I’m in a pretty elite group with more than two championships. Kenny Bernstein, Raymond Beadle, John Force, and Don Prudhomme are the only ones with more than two. It’s still hard for me to wrap my arms around that my name is on that list. It’s pretty amazing.”

Of course, Hight wasn’t the only driver to celebrate in the winner’s circle Sunday. He was also joined by Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence, Pro Stock champ Erica Enders, and Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Andrew Hines.

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

In Funny Car: The final round of the afternoon may have not gone exactly as planned for Hight, as his Auto Club Camaro quit on him during his burnout, handing the victory to Jack Beckman.

Beckman’s 3.920-second, 323.27-mph solo pass effortlessly gave the 2012 Funny Car champion his second and final victory of the 2019 season.

But for Hight, winning the final race of the 2019 season wasn’t a big deal; he had already done everything he needed to clinch his second title in three seasons with his win over Matt Hagan in the semifinals.

Although Hight had already been crowned World Champion twice prior, the California native had never won the title in such dominant fashion as he did in 2019.

 

“This is a dream year for me,” Hight said. “I’ve had years where I led all year and we lost in the Countdown. I’ve had years where we were terrible until we got to the Countdown and we ended up winning a championship. I think the results have showed from start to finish. This is what I’ve dreamed about, having a year where you’ve got the most wins and you’ve been in the lead all year.”

In Top Fuel: Another year meant another dominant performance by Torrence, who won his second consecutive Top Fuel title despite losing to Richie Crampton in the semifinals. Torrence entered the final race weekend of the year with a narrow lead over Brittany Force in the Top Fuel standings, whom he beat 3.74 to 3.77 in the second round of eliminations.

After defeating the 2017 champion, all Torrence needed to do was not cross the centerline in his semifinal versus Crampton to mathematically clinch the title, a task he easily accomplished.

“It’s been really special to be part of a team like ours; it’s not the driver who really does anything,” Torrence said. “The guys who work on this car – Richard Hogan, Bobby Lagana, and the rest of the Capco boys – are the ones who deserve all of the credit.

“It’s special to win one championship but to be able to win two and do it back to back, I can’t thank everyone enough.”

Though it was all smiles for Torrence following the conclusion of Sunday’s racing action, the 36-year-old Texan was visibly upset following his round one victory over Cameron Ferre.

Torrence took offense at the way Ferre staged his dragster prior to the round, and shoved Ferre in the face when both drivers excited their cars following the run.

Following his round two victory over Force, Torrence apologized for his actions.

“I had to get my head out of my butt,” Torrence said. “I apologize to each and every fan out there, everybody who has supported me. I got to go find Cameron and apologize to him.

“Tensions are high, and there’s a lot of crap going on. I’ve been in his shoes where you go up there to win and you might not have the best car but you do everything you can on the starting line. With everything going on – and racing for the kid at home who lost his life – there’s no excuse to act that way. I apologize. I’m grateful for the team, and it kind of just soils the day. I’m sorry to every one of you guys.”

In the final Top Fuel round of the day, Doug Kalitta defeated Crampton to collect his third victory of the season, and his 47th overall. Kalitta ended the season second to Torrence in the overall points standings.

“It was a fun day for sure,” Kalitta said. “I was really proud of the effort we put in today but three rounds was tough to make up, but we gave it all we could, so, obviously, it’s still on my list to win a championship.

“There are a lot of people who would love to see me win a championship and I would love nothing more than to get it done.”

In Pro Stock: By defeating Chris McGaha in the second round of Pro Stock eliminations, Enders won her third career Pro Stock title, and first since 2015.

But to get to the second round, Enders first had to defeat Greg Anderson, who strategically qualified 15th so he could face her in the first round in attempt to help his K.B. Racing teammates Jason Line and Bo Butner with their championship chances.

But despite having a quicker reaction time at the line, Anderson was defeated by Enders at the quarter mile mark, as she quickly shifted through the gears to beat Anderson at the finish line.

“The first one was just epic in the fashion that we did it,” Enders said. “The second one we knocked them out before Vegas was over. This one symbolizes a lot because of what my team has gone through and what I’ve gone through personally. Obviously the other championships meant a lot to me, too, but this one is special.”

In the class finals, Jeg Coughlin defeated Fernando Cuadra by 0.33-second to collect his second and final victory of 2019. Coughlin finished second overall in the point standings.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle: Hines’ hopes of winning a sixth championship were placed in limbo when the Hoosier fouled out in his first round. But luckily for Hines, title challengers Jerry Savoie and Matt Smith were unable to win the event, with both being defeated by eventual winner Jianna Salinas. 

It was the first career win for the 22-year-old rookie, and it came in her first final round.

Thus, Hines was able to maintain his point lead and win his first title since 2015. 

“This is a day that will live in fear for me for I don’t know how long,” said Hines after finally being declared the champion. “In the first round, I pulled a maneuver that I’ve done too many times in the past when I rolled backward out of the beams. I can’t thank my team enough for supporting me all day long. My Harley-Davidson team, that’s what they do best. I was so disappointed in what I did today, but we persevered all year to get those Mello Yello points and win the championship. I love my guys, and I love everything about this.”

The 2020 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season will kick off with the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals Feb. 6-9 at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

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

FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL:
1. Doug Kalitta; 2. Richie Crampton; 3. Steve Torrence; 4. Leah Pritchett; 5. Brittany Force; 6. Shawn Reed; 7. Justin Ashley; 8. Jordan Vandergriff; 9. Scott Palmer; 10. Cameron Ferre; 11. Austin Prock; 12. Billy Torrence; 13. Clay Millican; 14. Terry McMillen; 15. Antron Brown; 16. Mike Salinas.
FUNNY CAR:
1. Jack Beckman; 2. Robert Hight; 3. Matt Hagan; 4. Blake Alexander; 5. Shawn Langdon; 6. J.R. Todd; 7. Steven Densham; 8. Ron Capps; 9. Cruz Pedregon; 10. Bob Tasca III; 11. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 12. Jonnie Lindberg; 13. John Force; 14. Jeff Arend; 15. Tim Wilkerson; 16. John Hale.
PRO STOCK:
1. Jeg Coughlin; 2. Fernando Cuadra; 3. Bo Butner; 4. Erica Enders; 5. Chris McGaha; 6. Aaron Stanfield; 7. Jason Line; 8. Steve Graham; 9. Greg Anderson; 10. Alex Laughlin; 11. Deric Kramer; 12. Matt Hartford; 13. Shane Tucker; 14. Joey Grose; 15. Kenny Delco; 16. Val Smeland.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE:
1. Jianna Salinas; 2. Jerry Savoie; 3. Karen Stoffer; 4. Matt Smith; 5. Angelle Sampey; 6. Ryan Oehler; 7. Hector Arana Jr; 8. Steve Johnson; 9. Eddie Krawiec; 10. Scotty Pollacheck; 11. Hector Arana; 12. Angie Smith; 13. Freddie Camarena; 14. Kelly Clontz; 15. Katie Sullivan; 16. Andrew Hines.
******************
FINAL ROUND RESULTS:
TOP FUEL: Doug Kalitta, 3.716 seconds, 332.67 mph def. Richie Crampton, 4.884 seconds, 154.28 mph.
FUNNY CAR: Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.920, 323.27 def. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, Broke.
PRO STOCK: Jeg Coughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.558, 210.54 def. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.604, 209.72.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Jianna Salinas, Suzuki, 7.464, 180.81 def. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, Broke.
******************
FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:
TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Jordan Vandergriff, 3.721, 329.50 def. Austin Prock, 4.140, 245.09; Doug Kalitta, 3.740, 328.38 def. Terry McMillen, 5.811, 112.50; Richie Crampton, 4.204, 260.46 def. Mike Salinas, Broke; Justin Ashley, 4.364, 183.44 def. Clay Millican, 4.434, 181.86; Leah Pritchett, 3.753, 319.90 def. Scott Palmer, 3.813, 312.50; Steve Torrence, 3.734, 327.82 def. Cameron Ferre, 4.040, 294.82; Shawn Reed, 4.274, 217.11 def. Billy Torrence, 4.360, 241.07; Brittany Force, 4.075, 218.41 def. Antron Brown, 6.601, 114.89;
QUARTERFINALS — Crampton, 3.796, 322.81 def. Reed, 3.865, 281.77; Pritchett, 3.748, 323.12 def. Vandergriff, 18.760, 59.83; Kalitta, 4.068, 245.49 def. Ashley, 4.705, 157.74; S. Torrence, 3.749, 326.48 def. Force, 3.776, 302.41;
SEMIFINALS — Crampton, 3.762, 327.51 def. S. Torrence, 3.751, 324.59; Kalitta, 3.730, 331.85 def. Pritchett, 3.908, 302.08;
FINAL — Kalitta, 3.716, 332.67 def. Crampton, 4.884, 154.28.
FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Steven Densham, Ford Mustang, 5.380, 135.29 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 7.949, 129.11; Shawn Langdon, Toyota Camry, 4.013, 322.27 def. Jeff Arend, Chevy Monte Carlo, 5.410, 142.29; Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.946, 321.65 def. John Hale, Chevy Impala, 13.434, 39.58; Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.114, 275.11 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Mustang, 4.998, 162.98; Blake Alexander, Mustang, 3.981, 318.69 def. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.056, 294.43; Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.945, 327.82 def. John Force, Camaro, 5.234, 141.97; J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.974, 323.19 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.101, 258.02; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.949, 326.00 def. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 3.982, 321.58;
QUARTERFINALS — Alexander, 4.157, 279.27 def. Densham, 4.522, 294.69; Beckman, 3.958, 324.20 def. Todd, 4.005, 318.47; Hight, 3.976, 324.75 def. Langdon, 4.004, 315.12; Hagan, 4.005, 323.04 def. Capps, 6.338, 83.99;
SEMIFINALS — Hight, 3.977, 324.59 def. Hagan, 4.015, 326.95; Beckman, 3.956, 320.28 def. Alexander, 4.020, 308.85;
FINAL — Beckman, 3.920, 323.27 def. Hight, Broke.
PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Aaron Stanfield, Chevy Camaro, 6.632, 209.23 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 7.515, 139.26; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.602, 209.56 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.598, 209.23; Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.601, 209.59 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.599, 209.43; Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.610, 208.97 def. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.590, 210.01; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.573, 211.03 def. Val Smeland, Camaro, 7.735, 132.49; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.562, 210.05 def. Shane Tucker, Camaro, 6.650, 208.78; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.570, 210.41 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.575, 210.31; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.570, 210.28 def. Joey Grose, Camaro, 6.670, 207.82;
QUARTERFINALS — Butner, 6.595, 210.80 def. Graham, 14.023, 62.91; Coughlin, 6.599, 209.49 def. Stanfield, 6.611, 209.56; Enders, 6.597, 209.69 def. McGaha, 6.593, 210.08; F. Cuadra, 6.617, 207.40 def. Line, 8.371, 110.36;
SEMIFINALS — F. Cuadra, 6.586, 209.33 def. Enders, 6.612, 210.08; Coughlin, 6.588, 209.98 def. Butner, 6.582, 210.64;
FINAL — Coughlin, 6.558, 210.54 def. F. Cuadra, 6.604, 209.72.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Ryan Oehler, 6.932, 193.49 def. Scotty Pollacheck, 6.945, 194.60; Angelle Sampey, Harley-Davidson, 6.886, 193.65 def. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.893, 195.22; Hector Arana Jr, 6.934, 193.82 def. Hector Arana, 6.974, 194.72; Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.888, 195.05 def. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, Foul – Red Light; Jianna Salinas, Suzuki, 6.987, 187.29 def. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, Foul – Red Light; Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.903, 190.94 def. Freddie Camarena, Suzuki, 7.027, 193.57; Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.912, 191.87 def. Angie Smith, 7.022, 189.66; Matt Smith, 6.885, 196.70 def. Katie Sullivan, Suzuki, 7.119, 187.44;
QUARTERFINALS — Savoie, 6.860, 194.21 def. Arana Jr, Foul – Red Light; Salinas, 7.062, 184.55 def. Johnson, 13.432, 58.11; Stoffer, 6.894, 195.51 def. Sampey, 6.907, 193.96; M. Smith, 6.893, 195.90 def. Oehler, 6.944, 194.55;
SEMIFINALS — Salinas, 7.024, 186.85 def. M. Smith, 8.969, 97.85; Savoie, 6.855, 195.79 def. Stoffer, Foul – Red Light;
FINAL — Salinas, 7.464, 180.81 def. Savoie, Broke.
******************
FINAL SEASON POINT STANDINGS:
TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 2,607; 2. Doug Kalitta, 2,604; 3. Brittany Force, 2,555; 4. Leah Pritchett, 2,474; 5. Billy Torrence, 2,458; 6. Richie Crampton, 2,399; 7. Mike Salinas, 2,381; 8. Austin Prock, 2,379; 9. Antron Brown, 2,329; 10. Clay Millican, 2,300.
FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, 2,637; 2. Jack Beckman, 2,629; 3. Matt Hagan, 2,563; 4. John Force, 2,471; 5. Bob Tasca III, 2,446; 6. Ron Capps, 2,414; 7. J.R. Todd, 2,391; 8. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,360; 9. Shawn Langdon, 2,358; 10. Tim Wilkerson, 2,283.
PRO STOCK: 1. Erica Enders, 2,635; 2. Jeg Coughlin, 2,614; 3. Bo Butner, 2,524; 4. Jason Line, 2,495; 5. Matt Hartford, 2,448; 6. Deric Kramer, 2,409; 7. Greg Anderson, 2,408; 8. Alex Laughlin, 2,345; 9. Chris McGaha, 2,329; 10. Val Smeland, 2,203.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Andrew Hines, 2,599; 2. Jerry Savoie, 2,573; 3. Matt Smith, 2,553; 4. Karen Stoffer, 2,534; 5. Eddie Krawiec, 2,474; 6. Hector Arana Jr, 2,389; 7. Angelle Sampey, 2,381; 8. Angie Smith, 2,281; 9. Ryan Oehler, 2,271; 10. Hector Arana, 2,209.

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

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
0 Comments

Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, 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, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had 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 inevitably will 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 chief 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.