Torrence Has Perfect Response At The Plex

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 8 2018

Steve Torrence got the Top Fuel win in hIs home state of Texas on Sunday.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

ENNIS, Texas – Steve Torrence found redemption disguised as revenge Sunday afternoon at Texas Motorplex, where the Lone Star State native made a major move toward securing his first NHRA Top Fuel world championship.

Fifty-one weeks after a grinding crash at The Plex arguably cost him the 2017 title, Torrence emerged as champion of the 33rd annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals. Torrence’s first Top Fuel victory on the famed all-concrete surface against Terry McMillen extended a streak that has seen the 35-year-old Kilgore resident win the opening three races of NHRA’s six-event Countdown to the Championship playoffs. In doing so, Torrence has won all 12 playoff rounds run to-date.

“We’re not halfway there (to perfection), we’re perfect!” Torrence joked during his post-race presser. “It’s unbelievable. It’s not difficult to be humble when everything has gone our way. We’ll continue to do the best we can and let the Good Lord do the rest. And I like what He’s doing so far.”

Torrence has built a sizeable 103-point lead over second-place Clay Millican. That translates into five-plus rounds of racing (at 20 points per round). Torrence scored his eighth win of the season with a 1,000-foot pass in 3.786-seconds at 325.92 mph in his Torrence Racing dragster. McMillen _ who eliminated No. 1 qualifier Millican in the semifinals _ ran 3.826-seconds at 321.04 mph.   

His second-round crash at the Motorplex last Oct. 15 proved pivotal in preventing Torrence from becoming the first driver to win championships in NHRA’s Top Fuel and Top Alcohol Dragster divisions (2005).

“Somebody, somewhere started the ‘Redemption Tour’ thing but we’re here to do business,” Torrence said. “This is a check off of my Bucket List, to come to Dallas and win. I couldn’t be more proud to pull off a victory before so many fans, people I raced with and clients that came to watch us. To check off that box at home _ it’s real special.”

Robert Hight (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also emerged as winners in their respective categories of the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown. 

Torrence beat Bill Litton, Blake Alexander and eight-time world champion/Austin resident Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher to reach the final. McMillen defeated Mike Salinas, reigning world champion Brittany Force and Millican.  

“Everybody has built up ‘Can you come back for the win?’ We’re just here to go rounds,” said Torrence, who raised his career wins total to 24 Wally trophies. “I don’t have a Top Fuel championship but I’ve got 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.”

In Funny Car, two-time/reigning world champion Hight scored his second consecutive Motorplex win and extended his lead to 50 points with a victory over J.R. Todd. Hight covered the 1,000-foot distance in 3.955-seconds at 325.69 mph in his Chevrolet Camaro SS for his second consecutive Countdown win, fourth of the season and 45th of his career. Todd, the point runner-up, ran 3.984-seconds at 319.52 mph in his Toyota Camry.

Hight, of John Force Racing, was medically cleared to return to competition Thursday after suffering a broken collarbone when the engine in his car exploded shortly after crossing the finish line during his victory at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill., on Sept. 23. A trip to a St. Louis-area hospital forced Hight to miss the Victory Circle celebration with his team and fans. Hight subsequently underwent surgery nine days before qualifying began Friday at The Plex.

With a titanium plate keeping his collarbone together, Hight defeated Jim Campbell, Tim Wilkerson and Bob Tasca III en route to his 71st career final round. Todd, of Kalitta Motorsports, defeated John Hale, 2012 world champ “Fast” Jack Beckman and No. 1 qualifier Tommy Johnson Jr. on his way to his second final round of the Countdown.

“This AAA team was just flawless,” said Hight, a 49-year-old resident of Yorba Linda, Calif. “We just got better all weekend as we went. I promise you that we will celebrate 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. Now, since we won, we have a 50-point lead, which is a 40-point swing. Luckily we get to do it again next week.”

Teen-ager Gray continued his march to a first “Factory Hot Rod” world title with a victory over No. 1 qualifier Jeg Coughlin Jr. Gray, 19, earned his second consecutive Countdown win, seventh of the season and 12th of his two-year NHRA career with a quarter-mile pass in 6.622-seconds at 207.62 mph in his Chevrolet Camaro SS. Coughlin, a five-time world champ, ran 6.636-seconds at 207.83 mph in his Elite Motorsports Camaro. Gray now has an 89-point lead over Vincent Nobile.

“We’ve been struggling with qualifying it seems like and for whatever reason we’ve been able to pull it out on Sunday,” said Gray, who began the day seventh on the 16-car ladder. “Some of it being luck and some of it just making good runs and beating the guy in the other lane. Today we got lucky for sure in the semis. I made a mistake (after Matt Hartford red-lighted at the start) and for whatever reason, I guess, I flinched and double-clutched it to ruin the run.

“It’s awesome to have the group of guys I have around me that’s able to take a car with no data in the semis, after they wanted to try some different things, and go and do what we did.”

Gray knocked off Deric Kramer, four-time world champ Greg Anderson and Hartford on a day he said personally graded-out as a B-plus.

“Those guys (his crew) definitely get an A-plus,” Gray said. “They’ve given me an awesome car all weekend. I tried to mess it up in the semis. I’m so ecstatic. When you can go and beat Jeg, one of the best to come through the class, it means a lot to me to go up there and beat him, especially when the stakes are so high in the championship. I just want to keep the momentum going.”

A resident of motorsports-centric Mooresville, N.C., Gray plans to “retire” from NHRA at season’s end to pursue a career in NASCAR beginning in 2019. Ideally, he will exit as an NHRA world champion.  “That’s the only reason we’re here,” Gray said.

Coughlin, who has 61 career Pro Stock wins, defeated Val Smeland, Drew Skillman and Vincent Nobile to climb to third in points, just one behind runnerup Nobile. 

Tonglet defeated teammate/team-owner Jerry Savoie to take the point lead in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Tonglet covered the quarter-mile in 6.892-seconds at 194.80 mph aboard his Nitro Fish Racing Suzuki to defeat Savoie, the 2016 world champ who ran 6.907-seconds at 193.88 mph on his White Alligator Racing Suzuki.

Tonglet, the 2010 world champ, scored his fourth win of the season and has a 47-point lead over runnerup Eddie Krawiec, the four-time/reigning world champ aboard his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Street Rod. Matt Smith, who began the weekend with a 21-point lead over Tonglet, dropped to third aboard his Elite Motorsports Denso Auto Parts Buell EBR after an opening-round upset loss against Karen Stoffer and her Suzuki.

Tonglet picked up round wins-against five-time world champion Andrew Hines, three-time champ Angelle Sampey  and Krawiec en route to the final against bossman Savoie at White Alligator Racing. 

“It was just a lot of fun,” said Tonglet, a 28-year-old native and resident of Metairie, La. “It was fun in the pit while we were trying to get the bikes cooled-off (after semifinals). 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 and we’re not going to look back.” 

The Countdown will continue with the 11th annual NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., Oct. 12-14.


Final finishing order (1-16) at the 33rd annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex in Ennis. The race was the 21st of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and third in the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs:

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 Jr.; 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. 

Sunday’s final results from the 33rd annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex: 

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 Jr., Camaro, 6.636, 207.82.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.892, 194.80 def. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.907, 193.88.

Pro Modified _ Jeremy Ray, Chevy Corvette, 5.785, 248.07 def. Justin Bond, Pontiac Firebird, 5.774, 255.53.

Top Alcohol Dragster _Joey Severance, 5.236, 273.55 def. Alan Bradshaw, 5.342, 270.00.

Top Alcohol Funny Car _ Sean Bellemeur, Chevy Camaro, 5.504, 266.64 def. Doug Gordon, Camaro, 5.513, 265.43.

Factory Stock Showdown _ Leah Pritchett, Dodge Challenger, 8.106, 169.02 def. Kevin Skinner, Ford Mustang, 9.697, 101.72.

Final round-by-round results from the 33rd annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex:


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.


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.


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, Camaro, 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, Dodge Dart, 6.659, 206.51; Jeg Coughlin Jr., 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.


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, Buell, 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., Buell, 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, Buell EBR, 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.

Point standings (top-10) following the 33rd annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex: 

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 Jr., 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.

Jeremy Ray earned his first career victory during the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service portion of the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals. The weekend’s Pro Mod racing, presented by Bruce Lowrie Chevrolet in Fort Worth, was the 10th of 12 races this season. 

Ray won on a hole shot with a quarter-mile pass of 5.785-seconds at 248.07 mph in his 1963 Chevy Corvette against Justin Bond’s 5.774 at 255.53 in his 1967 Pontiac Firebird.

“We just had to keep everything together,” said Ray, a series rookie who exited The Plex seventh in the point standings. “You have to be perfect every time you go up to the line. Everything worked well here though. The tuning was good, I was driving good and was able to just keep ahead on everything.”

Ray defeated Steve Jackson, Steven Whitelely and No. 1 qualifier Sidnei Frigo to advance to the finals. 

Pro Mod Drag Racing will continue at the 11th annual NHRA Carolina Nationals on Oct. 12-14 at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C. 

Final finishing order (1-16) from the 33rd annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex:

Pro Modified _ 1. Jeremy Ray; 2. Justin Bond; 3. Sidnei Frigo; 4. Todd Tutterow; 5. Mike Castellana; 6. Rickie Smith; 7. Rick Hord; 8. Steven Whiteley; 9. Chad Green; 10. Michael Biehle; 11. Mike Janis; 12. Jader Krolow; 13. Danny Rowe; 14. Keith Haney; 15. Steve Jackson; 16. Khalid alBalooshi. 

Final round-by-round results from the 33rd annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex:


ROUND ONE _Mike Castellana, Chevy Camaro, 5.724, 252.99 def. Mike Janis, Camaro, 5.850, 243.41; Rick Hord, Chevy Corvette, 5.747, 256.36 def. Chad Green, Corvette, 5.798, 245.81; Todd Tutterow, Camaro, 7.997, 119.23 def. Michael Biehle, Ford Mustang, Foul/Red Light; Sidnei Frigo, Camaro, 5.973, 251.25 def. Danny Rowe, Camaro, Foul/Red Light; Justin Bond, Pontiac Firebird, 5.747, 255.68 def. Keith Haney, Camaro, 6.928, 138.50; Jeremy Ray, Corvette, 5.767, 247.57 def. Steve Jackson, Camaro, 7.582, 126.48; Steven Whiteley, Camaro, 5.794, 251.67 def. Jader Krolow, Corvette, 5.894, 253.85; Rickie Smith, Camaro, 5.792, 249.12 def. Khalid alBalooshi, Camaro, 13.135, 64.44;

QUARTERFINALS _Frigo, 5.801, 256.11 def. Castellana, 5.771, 252.57; Tutterow, 5.841, 246.08 def. Hord, 11.551, 76.63; Bond, 5.767, 256.02 def. Smith, 5.787, 250.55; Ray, 5.796, 247.57 def. S. Whiteley, 12.051, 71.62;

SEMIFINALS  _Ray, 5.797, 247.20 def. Frigo, Foul/Red Light; Bond, 5.770, 255.82 def. Tutterow, 5.848, 245.23;

FINAL _Ray, 5.785, 248.07 def. Bond, 5.774, 255.53.

Point standings (top-10) following the 33rd annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex:

Pro Modified _1. Mike Janis, 683; 2. Rickie Smith, 658; 3. Steve Jackson, 595; 4. Mike Castellana, 593; 5. Chad Green, 546; 6. Khalid alBalooshi, 517; 7. Jeremy Ray, 497; 8. Jose Gonzalez, 435; 9. Todd Tutterow, 433; 10. Danny Rowe, 380.


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 8 2018
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