By Lee Elder
COMMERCE, Ga. (May 5, 2019) – Steve Torrence might be getting that feeling again.
Torrence capped the 2018 season with an undefeated run through the NHRA Countdown to the Championship and Sunday, he won his second straight race by knocking off Brittany Force in the final round of the Arby’s NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.
Torrence joined Ron Capps and Andrew Hines as the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series winners Sunday.
“I could hear Brittany all the way,” Torrence said.
Both Force and Torrence appeared in their third final of the season. Torrence’s .072-second reaction time was slightly better than Force’s and the race was close most of the way before Force slowed near the finish. Torrence’s numbers were 3.863 seconds and 320.20 mph.
“We had a truly God-given season last year, to go out and have the success that we did,” Torrence said. He was especially happy to win in Atlanta this weekend because it is the site of his first-ever Top Fuel win.
The victory left Torrence with 444 points, far and away the best in Top Fuel.
Capps and final-round opponent Tim Wilkerson each raced in the final round for the third time this season. Capps’ reaction time, .064 of a second, was just enough better than Wilkerson’s to make the difference in the race. Capps’ run was 4.068 seconds to Wilkerson’s 4.052. Capps’ speed was 315.34 mph.
“I haven’t held one of these in a long time,” Capps said, grasping his trophy after the final round. “We struggled a little bit but Rahn Tobler is an open book, a big-hearted guy who would help anybody and he does. The (Don Schumacher Racing) crew chiefs came into our lounge the last few nights to help us, it was great.”
The final round pairing marked the third time in their long careers that Capps and Wilkerson have met in the final round at Atlanta Dragway.
Hines edged Jerry Savoie in the Pro Stock Motorcycle final, despite Savoie’s marginally better reaction time. Hines’ time was 6.865 seconds to Savoie’s 6.919. It was the 100th NHRA Mello Yello victory for Harley-Davidson and the 51st for Hines.
“Luckily, I was able to pick up the first one for Harley back in 2004,” Hines said. “We’ve had quite the train rolling over the years but we struggled last year, not winning a national event. … Coming off the 50th win for myself last race, it doesn’t get any better than this.”
The first round of eliminations highlighted the unpredictability of NHRA racing. Two of the top three drivers in the Top Fuel standings, Doug Kalitta and Clay Millican, lost in round one Sunday. Matt Hagan, who came to Georgia second in Funny Car points, went out in the first round. By the end of the second round, four of the top five drivers in the Funny Car standings were gone. Only category leader Robert Hight remained. Matt Smith, fourth in PSM points, went out in the first round.
On the flip side, the drivers in the 11th through 13th positions in Funny Car went out in the first round. Bob Tasca, who started the weekend 10th in points, gave himself some breathing room by advancing a round in eliminations. The eighth through 11th place PSM riders, Joey Gladstone, Hector Arana, Angie Smith and Cory Reed, all lost in round one. Only the top 10 teams in points advance to the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship later in the season.
NOTES: In the second round, John Force lost for the first time this season to a car other than the one driven by Robert Hight when he lost to Ron Capps. It was the fourth straight year Capps has defeated Force in Atlanta. … Brittany Force’s semi-final victory jumped her from fourth place to second in Top Fuel points. … Mike Salinas, who was sixth in points going into the weekend, was not in Atlanta due to business demands. However, the drivers closest to Salinas in the Top Fuel standings failed to advance beyond the second round and Salinas maintained his sixth-place spot.
UNOFFICIAL STANDINGS AFTER ATLANTA
Top Fuel – Steve Torrence 579, Brittany Force 483, Doug Kalitta 464, Leah Pritchett 433, Clay Millican 427, Mike Salinas 384, Antron Brown 373, Richie Crampton 329, Terry McMillen 319, Austin Prock 288.
Funny Car – Robert Hight 663, Matt Hagan 472, John Force 470, J.R. Todd and Tim Wilkerson 456, Tommy Johnson Jr. 445, Ron Capps 430, Jack Beckman 425, Shawn Langdon 375, Bob Tasca 338.
Pro Stock Motorcycle – Andrew Hines 444, Eddie Krawiec 366, Hector Arana Jr. 356, Jerry Savoie 253, Matt Smith 237, Karen Stoffer 204, Ryan Oehler 191, Joey Gladstone 170, Hector Arana 169, Angie Smith 168.