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Torrence Unstoppable Heading Into NHRA Countdown

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 7 2021

Tim Willkerson sprinted to the Funny Car victory at the U.S. Nationals over the Labor Day weekend. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

Drivers with a combined 12 NHRA world championships in four professional classes will open the 2021 Countdown to the Championship playoffs as No. 1 seeds.

Three-time/reigning Top Fuel world champ Steve Torrence capped another dominant “regular season” with a victory in Sunday’s 67th annual NHRA U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.

Torrence will be joined by top seeds/four-time world champions Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and 2016 world champ Ron Capps (Funny Car) when qualifying begins Friday for the 36th annual Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa.

Tim Wilkerson (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also exited the “Big Go” _ drag racing’s oldest and most prestigious national event _ as winners during the 13th race of the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season.

Torrence’s superb 2021 campaign continued at Indy, where he blasted past No. 1 qualifier Brittany Force in the final with a 1,000-foot pass in 3.749-seconds at 324.44 mph in his family-owned dragster. Torrence bagged his eighth victory in 13 races this season and 48th in his career, as well as a second U.S. Nationals Wally trophy.

Torrence reached the final by taking out Antron Brown, Greg Carrillo and his father, Billy, before easily dispatching Force after her dragster lost traction early in the run. Torrence finished the 13-race schedule with a massive 411-point lead over Force, with 10th-place Doug Kalitta trailing by 801 points. However, under the Countdown format Torrence’s lead over Force is now down to a miniscule 20 points _ basically one round of racing. Kalitta, final qualifier in an expanded Countdown (seven races instead of the traditional six), will start just 80 points back.

“It won’t change the way we do things,” said Torrence, addressing the adjustment. “We go out and try to win every race.  That’s what we’ve always done and I can’t wait to get started again.  When you have these ‘Capco Boys’ behind you, you know you’re gonna have a car that can win every week and the challenge is for me not to mess it up.”

Indeed, Torrence has led the point standings after 69 of the last 85 races contested, including 12 of 13 this season. Drag racing’s dominant driver over the past five seasons, Torrence has adjusted his attitude toward the playoff system since it bit him in 2017, the year he lost the title on the final day to Force.

“That’s just the way it is,” said Torrence, a resident of Kilgore, Texas.  “Basically, it penalizes the best teams for being successful, but it gives more teams a chance at the end of the year and that’s obviously what they were going for.”

Force, who will start the Countdown as Torrence’s chief competition, defeated Shawn Langdon, Alex Laughlin and Josh Hart to reach the final for the fourth time this season and 27th time in her career.

Although the system stung him in ‘17, Torrence and his Capco team rebounded to win all six races in the 2018 Countdown _ an accomplishment unlikely to be duplicated. Torrence’s titles in 2019 and 2020 were no less significant. The latter championship was especially memorable as it was won in “old school” fashion. The title was determined by which driver earned the most points over the course of the COVID-19-shortened 11-race series, with no Countdown and no recalibration of points.

Despite sitting out the 2020 season-opener, Torrence earned enough total points over the next 10 events to beat Kalitta to the podium by 193 points. As a result, the 38-year-old cancer survivor is in position to become just the seventh driver in NHRA pro drag racing history to finish atop the standings four consecutive years.  The last to do so was Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher, who strung together a Top Fuel record six consecutive titles from 2004 through 2009.

Countdown qualifying at Maple Grove Raceway begins Friday with a single session at 5:45 p.m., followed by Saturday sessions at 1:15 and 4:45 p.m. (EDT).

Ron Capps exited the U.S. Nats as Funny Car point-leader thanks in large part to the absence of Don Schumacher Racing teammate Matt Hagan, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 prior to the event and withdrew.

Hagan had built a 15-point lead over Bob Tasca III and J.R. Todd following the 39th annual NHRA Nationals at Brainerd (Minn.) International Raceway.

Hagan’s replacement _ former DSR teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. _ failed to qualify Hagan’s car Friday night when a mechanical issue developed after his Q1 burnout. When rain forced cancellation of Saturday’s time trials Johnson was saddled with a critical DNQ that left Hagan’s point total static at 865. A three-time world champion, Hagan fell from first to sixth in the seeding.

Those events played into an emotional weekend for Tim Wilkerson, who won for the first time in more than five years at the biggest event of the season.

Wilkerson, who last won in 2016, powered his Levi, Ray & Shoup Summit Racing Ford Shelby Mustang to a 1,000-foot run of 3.912-seconds at 320.36 mph in the final to deny Capps his first U.S. Nationals victory. Wilkerson picked up his second win at Indy and 21st career victory as well, earning a trip to the Winner’s Circle for the first time in 114 races.

Wilkerson drove past Bobby Bode, John Force and Cruz Pedregon en route to the final. The popular veteran, who launched his Funny Car career in 1996, will open the Countdown ninth in points and with plenty of momentum.

I just race the lane and I don’t really care who is in the other lane. I’m an old guy. I have been here for 25 years,” said Wilkerson, 60. “Capps has used me up the last 2-3 years. He’s whooped me every time in the finals. We’ve got a good car, ran well in Brainerd and I was making sure I was going down the track today. In the finals, I ran it like it was a night run.” 

Wilkerson credited car chief Richard Hartman and his crew for orchestrating the upset victory. “My guys are who I am really happy for,” Wilkerson said. “Most of the guys on this team besides Richard have never won a race, period. Those guys are all new to me. That’s what really makes me happy. I think we have been to six finals with all those kids, and I couldn’t get that monkey off my back.

“I’m pretty proud of my guys. We had a lot of adversity today. We put three motors in that car. We had an oil pump malfunction in the semis. It had no oil pressure from two seconds until the end. I don’t know how it didn’t break.

“We have a 24-hour rule _ after 24 hours it doesn’t matter _ win, lose or draw. There is a lot of emotion today. We are not a rich team. I have one Ford Mustang body left. One. That’s the one that just won the U.S. Nationals.”

Capps defeated Justin Schreiber, Robert Hight and Alexis DeJoria to reach the final round for the fourth time this season and 129th time overall. Capps heads into the postseason 20 points ahead of nemesis “Brute” Force.

“Going to Maple Grove in just a few days to start the Countdown and having a race car as good as our NAPA car is right now with the consistency and performance is exciting,” said Capps, who previously started playoff runs from P1 in 2016 and 2017. “I’m really pumped to get to Maple Grove to start the playoffs. We won the championship in 2016 without winning a race in the Countdown, but we were, by far, the most consistent car. We put the pressure on people and that’s what you have to do.

“We have a great team with (crew chiefs) John Medlen and Guido (Dean Antonelli). They’re firing on all cylinders.”

Erica Enders’ Indy dominance continued Sunday, as the Texan won at the “Big Go” for the second straight year via a hole-shot victory over Kyle Koretsky. Enders covered the quarter-mile in 6.626-seconds at 206.01 mph in the final, with her 0.024-second reaction time making the difference to beat Koretsky’s 6.613 at 206.35. Enders scored her third win this season, third at Indy at 32nd in her career.

Enders, the reigning/back-to-back world champ, beat Bruno Massel, Matt Hartford and point-leader Greg Anderson to reach the U.S. Nats final for the third consecutive year. Her bid for a third straight title will begin as the No. 2 seed, 20 points behind four-time world champ Anderson.

“I had a really great car all day,” Enders said of her Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro. “To win this in back-to-back years, it’s a great way to head into the Countdown. We’ve just got to keep it rolling, but it’s really humbling when you take a step back and realize what we’ve accomplished in a short time. Getting the win in 2020 and sticking it in the Winner’s Circle, I had a good feeling (Sunday) morning. To be victorious at the end of the day makes everything else go away. This one means a lot _ it’s our Super Bowl.”

Koretsky advanced to his second straight final with wins against veteran Larry Morgan, Chris McGaha and rookie Dallas Glenn. Koretsky will open the playoffs in fourth place.

Pro Stock Bike’s Eddie Krawiec cranked out an impressive weekend at the ideal time, picking up his first victory of the season by trailering Vance & Hines teammate Angelle Sampey in the final with a quarter-mile run of 6.844-seconds at 198.58 mph aboard his Buell.

Krawiec qualified No. 1 for the first time this season and rode that momentum into the Winner’s Circle for the 49th time in his championship career. Krawiec also won for the third time at the “Big Go,” eliminating teammate Andrew Hines, Michael Phillips and Joey Gladstone to reach the final. Krawiec then raced past three-time world champ Sampey, and will roll into the playoffs fourth in points.

“It was a little bit of luck, a little bit of good and hopefully things just fall your way,” said Krawiec, a four-time world champion. “We came out with the No. 1 motorcycle right off the trailer and second round was my lucky round. In the final round, I knew we had to be good and I was just excited. We’re back in (the class) and that feels good. To get two team bikes in the final round, that was something special. This is a true Vance & Hines win and it’s really cool to do that for everybody.”

Sampey reached the final round for the second straight race and 76th time in her career, knocking off Cory Reed, Steve Johnson and defending event winner Scotty Pollacheck. Reigning/four-time world champ Matt Smith will enter the playoffs with the point lead, with Johnson in second.

Jeffery Barker scored his first career victory in the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series on drag racing’s biggest stage, racing past back-to-back world champ Stevie “Fast” Jackson in the final of the U.S. Nationals.

The Pro Mod race was the seventh of 11 events during the 2021 NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service.

Jackson left first in the final but Barker tracked him down in his nitrous-powered Toyota Camry with a lap in 5.742-seconds at 251.67 mph to beat Jackson’s 5.785 at 248.29. 

“This is absolutely perfect,” Barker said. “There’s so many people to thank, including Khalid alBalooshi and Stevie Jackson. I would not be here if it wasn’t for Stevie Jackson. This is the best weekend ever.”

Barker reached his first career final round by racing past Doug Winters, Brandon Snider and No. 1 qualifier Rickie Smith. Jackson, who had won at the U.S. Nationals in two of the previous three years, reached the final for the fourth time this season and 21st time in his career by knocking off J.R. Gray, Jim Whiteley and Jerico Balduf.

Jose Gonzalez maintained the point lead, with Jackson moving to second _ 66 points behind the leader heading into the final four races of the year. Pro Mod returns to action Sept. 17-19 as part of the NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C.

Final finishing order (1-16) at the 67th annual Dodge//SRT NHRA U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. The race was the 13th/final “regular season” event of the 2021 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel _ 1. Steve Torrence; 2. Brittany Force; 3. Billy Torrence; 4. Josh Hart; 5. Leah Pruett; 6. Greg Carrillo; 7. Doug Kalitta; 8. Alex Laughlin; 9. Justin Ashley; 10. Joe Morrison; 11. Tripp Tatum; 12. Buddy Hull; 13. Antron Brown; 14. Krista Baldwin; 15. Shawn Langdon; 16. Kyle Wurtzel.

Funny Car _ 1. Tim Wilkerson; 2. Ron Capps; 3. Alexis DeJoria; 4. Cruz Pedregon; 5. J.R. Todd; 6. Bob Tasca III; 7. John Force; 8. Robert Hight; 9. Blake Alexander; 10. Bobby Bode; 11. Justin Schriefer; 12. Dave Richards; 13. Dale Creasy Jr.; 14. Jim Campbell; 15. Paul Lee; 16. Terry Haddock.

Pro Stock _ 1. Erica Enders; 2. Kyle Koretsky; 3. Dallas Glenn; 4. Greg Anderson; 5. Chris McGaha; 6. Matt Hartford; 7. Cristian Cuadra; 8. Mason McGaha; 9. Rodger Brogdon; 10. Deric Kramer; 11. Larry Morgan; 12. Kenny Delco; 13. Bruno Massel; 14. Aaron Stanfield; 15. Troy Coughlin Jr.; 16. Fernando Cuadra Jr.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Eddie Krawiec; 2. Angelle Sampey; 3. Scotty Pollacheck; 4. Joey Gladstone; 5. Steve Johnson; 6. Ryan Oehler; 7. Michael Phillips; 8. Hector Arana Jr.; 9. Angie Smith; 10. Karen Stoffer; 11. Cory Reed; 12. Jianna Salinas; 13. Marc Ingwersen; 14. Andrew Hines; 15. Ron Tornow; 16. Matt Smith. 

Final results from the Dodge//SRT NHRA U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis:

Top Fuel _ Steve Torrence, 3.749-seconds, 324.44 mph def. Brittany Force, 13.165-seconds, 24.39 mph.

Funny Car _ Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.912, 320.36 def. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.946, 326.63. 

Pro Stock _ Erica Enders, Chevy Camaro, 6.626, 206.01 def. Kyle Koretsky, Camaro, 6.613, 206.35. 

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ Eddie Krawiec, Buell, 6.844, 198.58 def. Angelle Sampey, Suzuki, 6.880, 195.51. 

Pro Modified _ Jeffery Barker, Toyota Camry, 5.742, 251.67 def. Steve Jackson, Chevy Camaro, 5.785, 248.29. 

Top Fuel Harley _ Ryan Peery, Weekend, 6.696, 196.16 def. Tyler Wilson, JIR, 7.072, 159.63.

Final round-by-round results from the Dodge//SRT NHRA U.S. Nationals:

TOP FUEL

ROUND ONE _ Greg Carrillo, 3.839, 270.81 def. Kyle Wurtzel, Broke; Leah Pruett, 3.933, 253.37 def. Joe Morrison, 4.331, 224.36; Brittany Force, 3.702, 332.34 def. Shawn Langdon, 10.623, 82.33; Doug Kalitta, 3.794, 319.75 def. Krista Baldwin, 8.768, 90.36; Josh Hart, 3.810, 322.04 def. Buddy Hull, 5.495, 112.26; Steve Torrence, 3.716, 325.37 def. Antron Brown, 8.442, 72.76; Billy Torrence, 3.741, 326.95 def. Tripp Tatum, 5.288, 131.72; Alex Laughlin, 3.878, 304.94 def. Justin Ashley, 4.081, 216.20; 

QUARTERFINALS _ Hart, 3.790, 325.37 def. Pruett, 3.897, 318.84; Force, 3.759, 325.53 def. Laughlin, 8.621, 84.58; B. Torrence, 6.641, 217.70 def. Kalitta, 6.840, 168.18; S. Torrence, 3.744, 323.35 def. Carrillo, 3.948, 278.75;

SEMIFINALS _ Force, 3.748, 324.75 def. Hart, 4.255, 201.25; S. Torrence, 3.744, 325.14 def. B. Torrence, 3.792, 323.04; 

FINAL _S. Torrence, 3.749, 324.44 def. Force, 13.165, 24.39. 

FUNNY CAR

ROUND ONE _ Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 4.128, 257.14 def. Blake Alexander, Ford Mustang, 6.081, 110.88; J.R. Todd, Camry, 6.401, 292.58 def. Jim Campbell, Dodge Charger, 8.388, 74.06; John Force, Chevy Camaro, 4.788, 182.75 def. Dave Richards, Mustang, 6.549, 98.56; Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.882, 331.69 def. Paul Lee, Charger, 12.155, 65.63; Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.914, 328.62 def. Dale Creasy Jr., Charger, 6.739, 94.43; Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 3.929, 323.66 def. Terry Haddock, Mustang, 13.081, 69.63; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.903, 325.77 def. Justin Schriefer, Charger, 6.496, 102.64; Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.611, 218.72 def. Bobby Bode, Mustang, 6.289, 112.25; 

QUARTERFINALS _ Pedregon, 3.920, 324.20 def. Todd, 4.328, 224.36; DeJoria, 3.963, 318.17 def. Tasca III, 7.877, 96.65; Capps, 3.952, 326.79 def. Hight, 12.145, 75.88; Wilkerson, 3.974, 297.81 def. Force, 9.041, 88.13; 

SEMIFINALS _ Wilkerson, 3.984, 325.37 def. Pedregon, 8.704, 87.34; Capps, 3.909, 327.74 def. DeJoria, 3.992, 323.04; 

FINAL _ Wilkerson, 3.912, 320.36 def. Capps, 3.946, 326.63. 

PRO STOCK

ROUND ONE _ Chris McGaha, Chevy Camaro, 6.643, 206.48 def. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.676, 206.54; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.639, 206.51 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.677, 205.47; Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.641, 207.15 def. Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, Foul/Red Light; Mason McGaha, Camaro, 11.330, 72.78 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, Foul/Red Light; Dallas Glenn, Camaro, 6.610, 207.27 def. Fernando Cuadra Jr., Ford Mustang, Foul/Red Light; Cristian Cuadra, Mustang, 6.717, 203.40 def. Troy Coughlin Jr., Camaro, Foul/Red Light; Kyle Koretsky, Camaro, 6.598, 207.75 def. Larry Morgan, Camaro, 6.801, 204.91; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.590, 206.35 def. Bruno Massel, Camaro, 9.551, 96.66; 

QUARTERFINALS _ Anderson, 6.638, 206.16 def. C. Cuadra, 19.529, 37.39; Glenn, 6.629, 206.86 def. M. McGaha, 21.373, 32.60; Koretsky, 6.620, 207.18 def. C. McGaha, 6.646, 206.95; Enders, 6.637, 206.10 def. Hartford, Foul/Red Light; 

SEMIFINALS _ Enders, 6.640, 206.89 def. Anderson, 6.804, 193.10; Koretsky, 6.630, 205.94 def. Glenn, 6.638, 206.39; 

FINAL _ Enders, 6.626, 206.01 def. Koretsky, 6.613, 206.35.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE

ROUND ONE _ Michael Phillips, Suzuki, 7.092, 190.11 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, Foul/Red Light; Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 10.891, 74.60 def. Angie Smith, Foul/Red Light; Angelle Sampey, Suzuki, 6.835, 194.30 def. Cory Reed, Suzuki, 6.979, 192.47; Scotty Pollacheck, 6.846, 196.93 def. Ron Tornow, 7.217, 186.43; Hector Arana Jr., 6.878, 196.70 def. Jianna Salinas, Suzuki, 7.063, 186.79; Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 7.044, 185.56 def. Marc Ingwersen, Buell, 7.163, 188.15; Eddie Krawiec, Buell, 6.848, 198.38 def. Andrew Hines, Buell, 7.199, 195.56; Ryan Oehler, 7.020, 192.91 def. Matt Smith, 9.692, 89.33; 

QUARTERFINALS _ Gladstone, 7.004, 191.73 def. Arana Jr., Foul/Red Light; Krawiec, 9.685, 90.68 def. Phillips, Foul/Red Light; Pollacheck, 6.881, 196.24 def. Oehler, 7.043, 192.44; Sampey, 6.806, 196.16 def. Johnson, 6.843, 196.16; 

SEMIFINALS _ Krawiec, 6.918, 198.12 def. Gladstone, 6.936, 192.17; Sampey, 6.831, 194.18 def. Pollacheck, Foul/Red Light; 

FINAL _ Krawiec, 6.844, 198.58 def. Sampey, 6.880, 195.51.

Final “regular season” point standings (top-10) following the 67th annual Dodge//SRT NHRA U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis:

Top Fuel _ 1. Steve Torrence, 1,389; 2. Brittany Force, 978; 3. Antron Brown, 839; 4. Leah Pruett, 712; 5. Shawn Langdon, 668; 6. Mike Salinas, 646; 7. Justin Ashley, 627; 8. Billy Torrence, 621; 9. Clay Millican, 594; 10. Doug Kalitta, 588.

Funny Car _1. Ron Capps, 981; 2. John Force, 938; 3. Bob Tasca III, 937; 4. J.R. Todd, 931; 5. Robert Hight, 867; 6. Matt Hagan, 865; 7. Alexis DeJoria, 835; 8. Cruz Pedregon, 825; 9. Tim Wilkerson, 801; 10. Blake Alexander, 519.

Pro Stock _ 1. Greg Anderson, 1,005; 2. Erica Enders, 900; 3. Aaron Stanfield, 790; 4. Kyle Koretsky, 767; 5. Dallas Glenn, 752; 6. Matt Hartford, 703; 7. Troy Coughlin Jr., 631; 8. Mason McGaha, 629; 9. Deric Kramer, 567; 10. Chris McGaha, 489.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _1. Matt Smith, 864; 2. Steve Johnson, 638; 3. Scotty Pollacheck, 606; 4. Eddie Krawiec, 588; 5. Angelle Sampey, 583; 6. Ryan Oehler, 520; 7. Joey Gladstone, 498; 8. Angie Smith, 480; 9. Karen Stoffer, 478; 10. Andrew Hines, 429.

Pro Modified point standings (top-10) following the 67th annual Dodge//SRT NHRA U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. The race was the seventh of 11 events in the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series:

Pro Modified _1. Jose Gonzalez, 568; 2. Steve Jackson, 502; 3. Brandon Snider, 497; 4. Justin Bond, 476; 5. Jeffery Barker, 307; 6. Khalid alBalooshi, 271; 7. Doug Winters, 262; 8. JR Gray, 261; 9. Mike Castellana, 230; 10. Rickie Smith, 215.

(Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1997) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was the inaugural recipient of the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame Media Award (2010). His list of freelance clients has included Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, NASCAR Wire Service and Ford Racing).

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 7 2021
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