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DeJoria Thunders Back To Victory Lane

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, October 19 2021

Alexis DeJoria, left, lines up against J.R. Todd in the Funny Car finals at Thunder Valley. (Photo courtesy of Elon Werner and Tony Fay Public Relations)

Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria and crew chief Del Worsham turned back time Sunday at Bristol Dragway with a victory in the 20th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.

Racing at one of her favorite tracks, DeJoria won for the sixth time in her career and first time with her new Toyota Camry team. DeJoria advanced to the final at the Tennessee facility during her rookie nitro season in 2012 but was unable to close the deal. After qualifying No. 1 for the first time since 2016, DeJoria defeated Paul Lee, enjoyed a second-round bye and then trailered Robert Hight and J.R. Todd to secure her first win of the season.

“Bristol is a very special track to me,” said DeJoria, a 44-year-old resident of Austin, Texas. “When Del was my crew chief in 2012, this was the first place where we went to a final round and lost a great race to Ron Capps. So, to come back here together again and make it to the final and then win means the world to me. 

“It’s one of the biggest wins of my career. It’s very humbling, but I was just ready to win. I was calm and just excited and when I’m in that headspace I do my best. This is one of my favorite tracks, if not my favorite. It’s just beautiful here and all the sounds and the people…I just love it.”

Mike Salinas (Top Fuel) and Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also won their respective categories at the 18th of 20 races during the 2021 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season and fifth of seven races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. It also marked the first time Thunder Valley played host to a race in October and during the playoffs.

DeJoria was impressive from start-to-finish, eliminating Todd with a 1,000-foot run in 3.921-seconds at 327.66 mph. Todd put up numbers of 3.939 at 326.22 in an all-Toyota Camry championship round.

DeJoria _ wife of popular hot rod and motorcycle fabricator Jesse James _ was especially pleased to get past what has become a personal psychological hurdle.

“Round One always makes me want to throw-up in my helmet,” DeJoria said. “It’s the worst round for me. It’s not nerves, I just want to get past first round. After that, it gets better. The first two rounds went great. Obviously, we made it down the track with another good run on our bye run. Just to make it to the semis and the finals was a huge deal. I was just happy to make it to another final. 

“Even though I’m not teammates with J.R. anymore, all of those (Kalitta Motorsports) guys are always going to be teammates to me. We’re Toyota cars and we’re friends and I was just there a long time. I love racing him and I think that’s why I have such good lights against him.”

After a final-round appearance at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colo., near Denver, earlier this season, and multiple semifinals, the pressure to win admittedly was mounting on DeJoria.

“It’s a huge weight taken off our shoulders,” Alexis said. “We were No. 1 qualifier and that was the first step. Getting that elusive No. 1 after getting a ton of No. 2s _ that was amazing. Then to get the Wally at the same race is insane. Whatever happens after this, I just hope for the best, but we’re good because we got a Wally. This is a huge confidence-builder for me and our whole team. We knew we could do this, it’s just a matter of time.”

DeJoria became the fifth consecutive different driver to win a Countdown race. The win, Alexis added, was as significant as her 2014 U.S. Nationals victory.

“I would say it’s one of the biggest as a part-team owner, definitely,” DeJoria said. “Coming back after taking two years off and getting to work with my mentor, old teammate and friend in Del Worsham. I look up to him and I learned everything I know from Del. To be able to do this with him again and do something we couldn’t do at Kalitta. But we always wanted to do this again and we were able to make it happen.”

Despite the loss, Todd made up major ground in advancing to the finals for the fifth time this season and 40th time in his career. Todd, of Kalitta Motorsports, knocked off three-time/reigning world champ Matt Hagan, 16-time champ John Force and point-leader Capps en route to the final. Todd jumped to third in the standings and within 83 points (four rounds) of Capps with two races remaining in the season. Meanwhile, Capps’ lead over Don Schumacher Racing teammate Hagan now is just one point.

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Mike Salinas scored his second straight Top Fuel victory at Bristol Dragway, once again beating point- leader Steve Torrence in the final. Torrence ran into issues off the starting line and Salinas’ 1,000-foot run in 3.845-seconds at 245.05 mph in his Scrappers Racing dragster was enough to bag his third career victory.

Salinas eliminated three-time world champion Antron Brown, Clay Millican and championship hopeful Brittany Force to reach the final for a third straight time at Bristol. For the second straight time, he took care of business in Thunder Valley to remain fourth in points.

“It’s a great facility and I’m glad they welcome us here,” Salinas said. “This track loves me. I met so many nice people over the years here. We’ve got a great team, and all the parts and pieces. I think I threw away three or four races at the beginning of the year trying to get my routine down. It’s hard when you’re running with all these guys, but I got a lot of help and I’ve made some big improvements.

“These guys in this class, they’re awesome. They cut good lights. I found something that works perfectly for me and I think we’re getting there. I just try to race my lane and that’s it.”

Torrence, the three-time/reigning world champ and No. 1 qualifier, reached a final for the 12th time this season and 74th in his career thanks to round-wins against Cameron Ferre and Justin Ashley. By advancing to the championship round, Torrence opened up a 73-point lead on Force heading into the last two races.

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Angelle Sampey finished a fantastic day in Pro Stock Motorcycle with her second victory in the Countdown. In an all-female final, Sampey beat Karen Stoffer on a hole-shot aboard her Vance & Hines Suzuki and quarter-mile pass in 6.773-seconds at 196.85 mph. Sampey recorded her 45th career victory and second this season to pull within 25 points of Matt Smith.

Sampey also raised the first Wally trophy for the class at Bristol. Pro Stock Bike competed in exhibition races at the track in 1999 and 2000, but Sampey’s win marked the first point-race for the two-wheelers at Thunder Valley.

“I’ve been out here for so long, I’ve really learned to appreciate everything I get now,” said Sampey, 51, the NHRA Pro Stock Bike world champ from 2000-2002. “When I win a race, the emotions are 100 percent genuine because it’s a task to get it done. To get four round-wins is really tough and it means so much to me. I love this sport so much and this team just works so hard. This mission was to catch back up in the points race and we made it happen. And it would be great to get the No. 1 back on the motorcycle.”

Sampey reached the final via victories against Andrew Hines, Chris Bostick and Eddie Krawiec. Stoffer advanced to her second final this season and 25th in her career after wins against Lance Bonham, Ron Tornow and point-leader and four-time/reigning world champ Smith in the semifinals. Smith now holds a 56-point (three-round) lead against Steve Johnson heading into the final two events.

The Countdown resumes Oct. 29-31 with the Dodge//SRT NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

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Jose Gonzalez clinched his career-first NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series world championship at Bristol Dragway as part of the 20th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals. The race was the 10th of 11 events during the 2021 E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service.

Gonzalez clinched by advancing to the final round. Gonzalez racked up five wins this season in his ProCharger-powered Q80 Chevrolet Camaro, advancing to six finals in all. Gonzalez suffered an early-season crash at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., near Charlotte, but rebounded in dominant fashion by winning three straight races at one point and clinching the championship one race before the finale.

“We went through a lot this year,” Gonzalez said. “Since our mishap in Charlotte, we started running really good. The effort of this whole team, they deserve it all. They’ve done a tremendous job and they’re the ones who have to get the car ready. I just have to get in it, so I’m probably doing the easy part right now. For me, I could never believe I’m doing this. I was just glad that we could win a couple of races. A championship is way over what I would have wanted.” 

In addition, rookie J.R. Gray capped an impressive weekend by racing to his career-first NHRA Pro Mod victory. He posted a strong 5.699-second run at 250.64 mph in his blown Gray Construction Camaro to beat Gonzalez, who left the starting line too soon.

Gray advanced to his career-first final on the strength of wins against No. 1 qualifier Rickie Smith and Mike Salinas, who also won Sunday in Top Fuel. Gray went 5.699 at 251.53 in his first-round victory against Smith and then tied his career-best pass with another outstanding performance in the final.

“This is so surreal and amazing,” said Gray, the No. 14 qualifier. “I can’t even put into words what this means. We’ve been facing adversity all year but this team kept digging and digging, and we haven’t stopped. There’s so many people who have been involved in this and I just want to thank everyone.”

Gonzalez reached the final after round-wins against Lyle Barnett, Khalid alBalooshi and Stevie “Fast” Jackson, who had won the two previous Pro Mod world championships.

Pro Mod will close-out its 2021 season Oct. 29-31 at the Dodge//SRT NHRA Nationals presented by Pennzoil at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Them “Capco Boys” are going corporate. Torrence Racing will join Team Toyota beginning with the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season. The addition of three-time/reigning Top Fuel world champion Steve Torrence and father Billy expands Toyota’s nitro-powered partnerships to include five Top Fuel dragsters and two Funny Cars. 

“Torrence Racing is a leader in NHRA competition, and we look forward to bringing Steve and Billy into the Toyota family in 2022,” said Paul Doleshal, Group Manager, Motorsports and Assets, Toyota Motor North America (TMNA). “We have incredible drivers and team partners in the NHRA landscape. The addition of Steve and Billy Torrence will only enhance that outstanding lineup.”

Based in Kilgore, Texas, Torrence Racing has emerged as a dominant force in NHRA. Steve Torrence, 38, has driven to 49 victories in 263 career events in his family-owned Capco Contractors dragster. This season, Steve has won nine races and is the current Countdown to the Championship point-leader. Billy Torrence, 63, has won twice this year and eight times in his career. Despite running a part-time schedule, Billy currently is fifth in the point standings in a car owned by “Mama Kay” Torrence.

“I’ve been blessed to have a lot of success in my NHRA career, but I feel like this new partnership with Toyota and TRD will only improve what Torrence Racing can do on the track,” Steve Torrence said. “I’ve seen first-hand that the drivers and teams associated with Toyota aren’t just part of their roster, but part of a family. They are a special manufacturer that puts people first and that’s the type of partnership our team is excited to be a part of starting next season.”

Toyota provides its NHRA teams with tow vehicles, along with engineering, technology and trackside support through TRD (Toyota Racing Development). In addition to Torrence Racing, Toyota will continue to support Antron Brown’s newly established team, AB Motorsports; DC Motorsports and Kalitta Motorsports’ three-team effort in 2022.

The Torrences join a Toyota driver lineup that includes three-time NHRA Top Fuel world champion Brown; U.S. Nationals Funny Car winner Alexis DeJoria; 49-time Top Fuel race-winner Doug Kalitta; 2013 Top Fuel world champion Shawn Langdon and 2018 Funny Car world champ J.R. Todd.

Toyota currently is celebrating its 20th season in NHRA. Toyota drivers have won 137 Top Fuel and 43 Funny Car races along with six Top Fuel and three Funny Car championships during its NHRA tenure.

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 inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients has included Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, NASCAR Wire Service and Ford Racing).

Final finishing order (1-16) at the 20th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway. The race was the 18th of 20 events in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series and fifth of seven in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs:

Top Fuel _ 1. Mike Salinas; 2. Steve Torrence; 3. Justin Ashley; 4. Brittany Force; 5. Billy Torrence; 6. Clay Millican; 7. Spencer Massey; 8. Shawn Langdon; 9. Antron Brown; 10. Cameron Ferre; 11. Doug Kalitta; 12. Leah Pruett; 13. Josh Hart; 14. Lex Joon.

Funny Car _ 1. Alexis DeJoria; 2. J.R. Todd; 3. Robert Hight; 4. Ron Capps; 5. Cruz Pedregon; 6. John Force; 7. Bob Tasca III; 8. Matt Hagan; 9. Dave Richards; 10. Tim Wilkerson; 11. Cory Lee; 12. Blake Alexander; 13. Paul Lee; 14. Jim Campbell.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Angelle Sampey; 2. Karen Stoffer; 3. Matt Smith; 4. Eddie Krawiec; 5. Scotty Pollacheck; 6. Kelly Clontz; 7. Ron Tornow; 8. Chris Bostick; 9. Andrew Hines; 10. Joey Gladstone; 11. Charles Poskey; 12. Lance Bonham; 13. Ryan Oehler; 14. Steve Johnson; 15. Angie Smith.

Pro Modified _ 1. JR Gray; 2. Jose Gonzalez; 3. Steve Jackson; 4. Mike Salinas; 5. Mike Castellana; 6. Brandon Snider; 7. Khalid alBalooshi; 8. Lyle Barnett; 9. Rickie Smith; 10. Doug Winters; 11. Justin Bond; 12. Jeffery Barker; 13. Eric Latino; 14. Dwayne Wolfe.

Final class results from the Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway:

Top Fuel _ Mike Salinas, 3.854-seconds, 245.05 mph def. Steve Torrence, 10.316-seconds, 81.57 mph.

Funny Car _ Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 3.921, 327.66 def. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.939, 326.32.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ Angelle Sampey, Suzuki, 6.773, 196.85 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.760, 197.83.

Super Stock _ Greg Stanfield, Chevy Camaro, 9.872, 131.91 def. Jeff Dona, Pontiac Firebird, 9.684, 139.33.

Stock Eliminator _ Brett Candies, Ford Mustang, 9.147, 142.85 def. Mark Lewis, Chevy Camaro, 10.777, 115.89.

Super Comp _ Jack Sepanek, Dragster, 8.930, 178.87 def. Adam Gerber, Dragster, 8.973, 152.73.

Super Gas _ Jacob Elrod, Chevy Corvette, 10.039, 150.87 def. Tim Powell, Corvette, 11.361, 93.34.

Top Dragster presented by Vortech Superchargers _ Chad Taylor, Dragster, 7.088, 186.90 def. Steve Furr, Dragster/Broke.

Pro Modified _ JR Gray, Chevy Camaro, 5.699, 250.64 def. Jose Gonzalez, Camaro, Foul/Red Light.

Final round-by-round results from the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway:

TOP FUEL

ROUND ONE _ Clay Millican, 3.840, 327.90 def. Josh Hart, 13.886, 24.26; Spencer Massey, 3.745, 328.46 def. Leah Pruett, 7.565, 81.47; Brittany Force, No Time Recorded def. Lex Joon, 20.583, 660.14; Mike Salinas, 3.672, 334.32 def. Antron Brown, 4.381, 189.47; Billy Torrence, 4.120, 201.34 def. Doug Kalitta, 5.236, 133.63; Steve Torrence, 3.729, 328.38 def. Cameron Ferre, 4.438, 176.81; Justin Ashley, 3.690, 334.48 def. Shawn Langdon, 3.739, 327.43;

QUARTERFINALS _Force, 3.671, 332.10 def. Massey, 3.777, 320.13; S. Torrence, 3.680, 333.00 was unopposed; Ashley, 3.708, 333.33 def. B. Torrence, 3.705, 327.27; Salinas, 3.707, 326.63 def. Millican, 3.740, 329.26;

SEMIFINALS _ Salinas, 3.698, 330.55 def. Force, 8.209, 79.25; S. Torrence, 3.677, 331.69 def. Ashley, 3.691, 334.15;

FINAL _ Salinas, 3.854, 245.05 def. S. Torrence, 10.316, 81.57.

FUNNY CAR

ROUND ONE _ Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 4.016, 288.77 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 6.522, 103.46; Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 4.030, 269.83 def. Paul Lee, Dodge Charger, 8.033, 87.70; John Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.997, 272.12 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 8.069, 77.10; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.945, 328.38 def. Blake Alexander, Mustang, 7.575, 78.95; J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.924, 324.90 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.958, 326.16; Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.940, 328.46 def. Cory Lee, Mustang, 7.391, 96.08; Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 3.964, 294.11 def. Dave Richards, Mustang, 4.023, 311.63;

QUARTERFINALS _ DeJoria, 3.931, 321.04 was unopposed; Capps, 3.919, 329.83 def. Pedregon, 3.920, 326.63; Hight, 3.920, 329.34 def. Tasca III, 4.338, 220.55; Todd, 3.916, 328.78 def. Force, 4.118, 324.59;

SEMIFINALS _ DeJoria, 3.904, 327.74 def. Hight, 3.934, 329.10; Todd, 3.921, 327.82 def. Capps, Foul/Centerline;

FINAL _ DeJoria, 3.921, 327.66 def. Todd, 3.939, 326.32.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE

ROUND ONE _ Chris Bostick, Suzuki, 6.994, 188.46 def. Charles Poskey, Suzuki, 7.117, no speed; Eddie Krawiec, Buell, 6.895, 196.93 def. Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 6.998, 189.98; Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 7.006, 186.36 def. Ryan Oehler, 8.503, 113.31; Ron Tornow, 6.984, 187.83 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 13.777, 58.06; Angelle Sampey, Suzuki, 6.821, 195.62 def. Andrew Hines, Buell, 6.887, 195.70; Scotty Pollacheck, EBR, 6.894, 197.71 was unopposed; Matt Smith, EBR, 6.853, 199.08 def. Angie Smith, EBR, Broke/No Show; Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 7.160, 152.97 def. Lance Bonham, Buell, 7.778, 175.62;

QUARTERFINALS _ Stoffer, 6.834, 195.14 def. Tornow, 7.054, 187.29; Krawiec, 6.844, 199.29 def. Pollacheck, 6.895, 198.23; M. Smith, 6.843, 198.20 def. Clontz, 6.965, 190.78; Sampey, 7.075, 154.33 def. Bostick, Foul/Red Light;

SEMIFINALS _ Sampey, 6.814, 194.18 def. Krawiec, 7.964, 119.21; Stoffer, 6.785, 196.87 def. M. Smith, 6.895, 196.99;

FINAL _ Sampey, 6.773, 196.85 def. Stoffer, 6.760, 197.83.

Countdown to the Championship point standings (top-10) following the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway:

Top Fuel _ 1. Steve Torrence, 2,575; 2. Brittany Force, 2,502; 3. Justin Ashley, 2,428; 4. Mike Salinas, 2,425; 5. Billy Torrence, 2,357; 6. Leah Pruett, 2,291; 7. Clay Millican, 2,265; 8. Antron Brown, 2,252; 9. Shawn Langdon, 2,228; 10. Doug Kalitta, 2,180.

Funny Car _ 1. Ron Capps, 2,490; 2. Matt Hagan, 2,489; 3. J.R. Todd, 2,407; 4. (tie) John Force, 2,389; Cruz Pedregon, 2,389; 6. Bob Tasca III, 2,343; 7. Robert Hight, 2,337; 8. Alexis DeJoria, 2,319; 9. Tim Wilkerson, 2,249; 10. Blake Alexander, 2,184.

Pro Stock _ 1. Greg Anderson, 2,224; 2. Erica Enders, 2,183; 3. Aaron Stanfield, 2,129; 4. Dallas Glenn, 2,125; 5. Kyle Koretsky, 2,117; 6. Troy Coughlin Jr., 2,114; 7. Matt Hartford, 2,098; 8. Chris McGaha, 2,078; 9. Mason McGaha, 2,067; 10. Deric Kramer, 2,062. (Editor’s note: Pro Stock did not compete at this event.)

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Matt Smith, 2,451; 2. Angelle Sampey, 2,426; 3. Steve Johnson, 2,395; 4. Eddie Krawiec, 2,340; 5. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,291; 6. Karen Stoffer, 2,250; 7. Joey Gladstone, 2,235; 8. Angie Smith, 2,225; 9. Andrew Hines, 2,177; 10. Ryan Oehler, 2,150.

Pro Modified _ 1. Jose Gonzalez, 838; 2. Brandon Snider, 658; 3. Steve Jackson, 643; 4. Justin Bond, 641; 5. JR Gray, 495; 6. Jeffery Barker, 411; 7. Doug Winters, 398; 8. Mike Castellana, 376; 9. Khalid alBalooshi, 368; 10. Lyle Barnett, 360.

UPDATED 2021 COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE/PROFESSIONAL WINNERS

Sunday, Sept. 12 _ Maple Grove Raceway, Reading, Pa. Billy Torrence (Top Fuel); Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car); Greg Anderson (Pro Stock); Steve Johnson (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sunday, Sept. 19 _zMAX Dragway, Concord, N.C. Josh Hart (Top Fuel); Tim Wilkerson (Funny Car); Kyle Koretsky (Pro Stock); Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sunday, Sept. 26 _ World Wide Technology Raceway, Madison, Ill. Steve Torrence (Top Fuel); Matt Hagan (Funny Car); Erica Enders (Pro Stock).

Sunday, Oct. 10 _ Texas Motorplex, Ennis. Justin Ashley (Top Fuel); Ron Capps (Funny Car); Greg Anderson (Pro Stock); Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sunday, Oct. 17 _ Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway. Mile Salinas (Top Fuel); Alexis DeJoria (Funny Car); Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sunday, Oct. 31 _ The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Sunday, Nov. 14 _ Auto Club Speedway, Pomona, Calif.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, October 19 2021
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