By Lee Elder
CHANDLER, Ariz. (Feb. 25, 2018) – The racing at the National Hot Rod Association’s Arizona Nationals lived up to the sport’s reputation for unpredictability at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.
Steve Torrence won in Top Fuel, Courtney Force was the Funny Car winner and Chris McGaha took the Pro Stock trophy. But along the way, some of the sport’s heaviest hitters were knocked out in the early rounds and another crashed heavily after winning his second-round race.
Torrence joked, “I’m just the guy who’s not smart enough to work on (the car) and is dumb enough to drive it.”
Torrence’s victory was not a surprise, but much of what happened leading up to the final rounds was unexpected. Greg Carrillo, from nearby Glendale, upset top qualifier Tony Schumacher in the first round of Top Fuel, then knocked out Antron Brown in the second round. Robert Hight, a two-time Funny Car champion, lost his first rounder. Bo Butner, the defending Pro Stock champion and winner of the first race of the season, also went out in round one.
John Force was transported to a local hospital after a wild incident during the second round of eliminations. Force’s Chevrolet had a major engine failure very close to the end of his second-round pass, which he won. The resulting explosion destroyed the car’s body and sent Force from his left lane across the right lane where it hit the retaining wall and was immediately struck by the car driven by Jonnie Lindberg. Both cars’ parachutes had been deployed before the impact and the lines from the parachutes eventually became entangled. After the cars were entangled, they both crossed the track and hit the left side retaining wall.
Lindberg climbed from his car and walked away. Force was removed from his car and was said to be awake and alert when he came out of the car. The trip to the hospital was for precautionary observation.
Torrence’s path to the final round was a difficult and emotional one. He beat his father, Billy Torrence, in an emotional semi-final round and then defeated Scott Palmer in the final Palmer’s team has had technical assistance from the Torrence team.
Billy Torrence, Steve’s father, won a pedal-fest in the first round against Doug Kalitta and beat defending Top Fuel champ Brittany Force in the second round for facing his son in the third round.
“The only way it could have been better,” Steve Torrence said, “would be if it had been in the finals and I won again.”
Torrence left Arizona with the Top Fuel points lead. His 183 leads Kalitta’s 144 and Schumacher’s 140.
Courtney Force beat Del Worsham in the first round and Matt Hagan in the next on her way to winning in Funny Car. She would have faced John Force in the third round, but had a solo run as he had crashed in the previous round. She beat Tommy Johnson Jr. in the final with a stellar run of 3.834 seconds and a track record 337.16 mph. The win was Courtney Force’s ninth overall and her first at Wild Horse Pass. Her most recent win had been in 2016.
Courtney Force had performed consistently well during qualifying in 2017. She was the top qualifier again at Wild Horse pass and this time she converted the top qualifying position into a race win. She said she hoped getting a victory would set her on a hot streak on future race days.
“I sure hope so,” she said, adding, “It feels good to win from the number one qualifying spot.”
After the Arizona race, Matt Hagan led the Funny Car standings with 179 points. Courtney Force’s victory vaulted her to the second spot with 160 and Ron Capps was third with 139.
McGaha’s victory was a close thing. He beat Jason Line in the final round by just .0258 of a second, about half a car length. It was McGaha’s second victory over Line in ten chances and it came on a holeshot.
“Yeah, I guess so,” McGaha said. “I was racing Jason and you gotta bring it for Jason.”
Line ended the weekend first in points with 195. Deric Kramer was next with 154 and McGaha was third with 152.