Antron Brown denies Steve Torrence Western Swing sweep in first round but denied his own second victory of the season
Leah Pruett gets long-awaited Top Fuel victory on solo pass as opponent Justin Ashley overcome by heat
Ron Capps uses victory to take over Funny Car points lead
Matt Hagan takes issue with John Force in epic Round 1 match-up
Motorsports icon Tony Stewart makes four exhibition passes in Cobra Jet 1400 EV
Top Fuel contender Antron Brown said, “You don’t have to make up some false drama show” about the NHRA. “There’s a ridiculous amount of intensity and drama that has to do with our sport.”
Brown didn’t win the Lucas Oil Winternationals at California’s Auto Club Raceway at Pomona
Sunday, but he played a significant role in that. He denied Steve Torrence his seventh victory in 10 Camping World Drag Racing Series events this year. Brown, the most recent driver to sweep the so-called Western Swing in 2009, shut down Torrence’s chance to join the exclusive club of pro racers.
Justin Ashley knocked Brown out of contention for his second victory this year in the semifinal but passed out in the scorching heat as he an opponent Leah Pruett lined up for their showdown and yielded the racetrack to her. Pruett wished Ashley a speedy recovery and said she was disappointed she couldn’t race one of her toughest challengers but took the solo pass nonetheless to satisfy a hunger that had gnawed at her since she last won in August 2019, at Brainerd, Minn.
And young gun Aaron Stanfield, winning for the second straight Sunday, kept Pro Stock icon Greg Anderson from tying his retired mentor, Warren Johnson, to become the sport’s second most successful active driver behind Funny Car’s John Force.
Top qualifier Ron Capps assumed the Funny Car points lead, replacing Bob Tasca III, whom he eliminated in the quarterfinals and who had led virtually all season long. With his victory and Pruett’s in Top Fuel, Don Schumacher Racing recorded yet another double-nitro victory.
The unseasonably named Winternationals normally take place in February and traditionally open the NHRA season. Neither the 2020 Finals nor the February edition of this storied event in the birthplace of the 70-year-old sport happened because of COVID issues. And the racing surface itself just a few months ago was a drive-in food pantry for needy Southern Californians.
Swing and a Miss for Steve Torrence
Steve Torrence said he wanted to score a hat trick at Pomona and sweep the three-race-in-three-consecutive-weekends Western Swing, but that wasn’t what he primarily came to do. His focus simply was on winning this race – and every one after it through November on the way to a fourth straight Top Fuel series crown. So the runaway class leader wasn’t heartbroken that he didn’t become the sixth dragster driver and eighth overall to master the mid-season challenge. But he didn’t come to this historic track for the first time in 20 months, since he clinched the 2019 championship (his second of three), expecting to lose in the first round. That hadn’t happened in 16 races, dating back to last July at Indianapolis.
But Brown, in the Matco Tools/Toyota/Sirius XM Dragster had plans of his own, and he knocked off Torrence on the hot, tricky racetrack that already was approaching 130-140 degrees. Brown called it “a blessing we got through that round.” He defeated Shawn Langdon next but lost to Justin Ashley in the semifinal.
Brown’s crew chief, Brian Corradi, said early Sunday morning before racing started, “Good luck to Steve. I know what it was like to [sweep the Swing] in ’09, and I know what it was like in ’12, where it got taken away at the last race, too. That’s how it goes.”
Torrence’s defeat meant that for only the third time in 15 races, the Top Fuel final round would not have a Capco Contractors Dragster, including Billy Torrence’s, at the starting line.
Hagan Accuses Force of Playing Games
After Brown defeated Torrence in that Top Fuel battle of three-time champions and best friends, they walked straight toward each other and hugged. That’s not what happened in the classic Funny Car matchup minutes later in the match-up between Matt Hagan and John Force, who represent a combined 19 series titles. Instead, they exchanged heated words.
Hagan was upset with Force’s staging pace. Force, trying to deep-stage to get an advantage on the launch, accidentally turned on both staging bulbs, rushing Hagan to get into position before the green light came on. That’s considered poor etiquette. The move backfired on Force, as Hagan got a sizeable jump on him (with a .059-of-a-second reaction time to Force’s .111), but Force won by six-thousandths of a second.
Hagan initiated the confrontation, quizzing Force, “What was that about? You're a better driver than that.”
Force defending himself, saying, “This is race day. I’m going to do what I want to do here.” He said his competition is better than he is at this stage of his career and that he has to use every weapon in his arsenal to go rounds.” Evidently he make some other remarks, for he later apologized because he “said a bunch of dumb things – swore – wrong.”
Hagan told Autoweek, “It’s not about winning and losing—that’s drag racing. I’ve always had respect for John Force. The way we all stage, it’s a respect thing from driver to driver. You go up there and do what you’re supposed to do. It’s just common courtesy between drivers.
“When I looked up both bulbs were on, and that’s not something you’re used to seeing,” he said. “I guess he wanted to play games today. He’s within his right to do so, but at the end of the day, it didn’t do him any favors. He still got drilled on the tree. I had a .059 to his .111. Unfortunately for us, we put a hole out and the car slowed down. And if it wasn’t for that, we would’ve won the race. I’m very confident in my abilities as a driver, and I don’t play games, so it is what it is.”
Force downplayed the incident: “We’re all good there. Love the guy. He’s a great racer.”
In the semifinal round, Force messed a bit at the starting line with No. 1 qualifier Ron Capps, another longtime competitor he genuinely admires. And by contrast, Capps seemed to get a huge kick out of it. The Don Schumacher Racing driver said, “Holy crap! John Force in the semis at Pomona in the middle of the summer! Does it not get any better? The old man shut off the top light. He does everything that makes you stand on your game and you question how good you are. He did that and (I thought), ‘Aww- this is awesome! John Force put the top light off!’”
Pruett Records Long-Awaited Top Fuel Victory
Leah Pruett’s heart sank a bit when she learned she would have a single pass in the final round, but her heart warmed when she received the Wally trophy and said to the bronze man on the wooden base, “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you, Bud.”
The Sparkling Ice Spiked Dragster driver said, “I hope Justin is doing well. We know how big a competitor he is. He’s a difficult one (to race against). For anyone to get out of the car in a final round at an event like this shows that he was being smart for what is best for him. I think it also shows to what a degree we are athletes and how important it is to take care of our bodies and our minds.”
As they pulled up to prepare to stage their cars, Pruett noticed some commotion in the other lane and started realizing she would win on a solo pass. “I really wanted to have a final round [race].”
For Pruett, who lost her father Ron suddenly in January, this was a bit of an emotional homecoming, considering her 25 years in racing began here at this venue with him as her tutor in the NHRA Jr. Dragster ranks. “I don’t think I’ve seen as many win lights in my life as I’ve seen at this racetrack. It was very nice, incredible to see,” she said.
“But the most impressive part for me of today was how our team has continued to persist and persevere and grow,” Preutt said, gratified that she and her Todd Okuhara- and Neal Strausbaugh-led crew “are pulling the rope in the same direction.”
Ashley reportedly was receiving IV fluids following the event and his condition was improving.
Pro Stock’s Greg Anderson Will Have to Wait for No. 97
Earlier in eliminations Sunday, Anderson said, “Hopefully we don’t step on a landmine” as he inched toward his 97th victory.
But he couldn’t avoid Aaron Stanfield, 26, last week’s Sonoma winner, in the final round. It was Anderson’s 163rd final-round appearance, Stanfield’s sixth. Stanfield, who also won at Epping, N.H.—where he beat Anderson in the money round—and picked up his fourth overall victory and third of the season. Anderson has reached five finals and won the first two.
“It’s cool to be able to race against him and that milestone that he’s trying to accomplish,” Stanfield said of the 60-year-old veteran, “but I’m glad we got him stopped today.”
Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals
Sunday's final results from the 61st annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. The race is the 10th of 20 in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series:
Top Fuel -- Leah Pruett, 4.021 seconds, 247.61 mph def. Justin Ashley, Broke.
Funny Car -- Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.151, 297.75 def. J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 4.289, 286.56.
Pro Stock -- Aaron Stanfield, Chevy Camaro, 6.652, 207.69 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.660, 207.08.
Pro Stock Motorcycle -- Matt Smith, EBR, 6.828, 199.52 def. Angelle Sampey, Suzuki, 6.911, 173.96.
Top Alcohol Dragster -- Shawn Cowie, 5.325, 274.39 def. Joey Severance, 5.726, 195.96.
Top Alcohol Funny Car -- Terry Ruckman, Chevy Camaro, 5.724, 262.23 def. Brian Hough, Camaro, 5.712, 260.41.
Competition Eliminator -- Tibor Kadar, Chevy Cobalt, 8.174, 165.97 def. Joe Mozeris, Dragster, 7.098, 183.37.
Super Stock -- Jimmy DeFrank, Chevy Cobalt, 9.006, 151.05 def. Kyle Rizzoli, Chevy Camaro, 9.747, 134.71.
Stock Eliminator -- Kyle Rizzoli, Chevy Camaro, 10.249, 126.99 def. Brian McClanahan, Camaro, 9.900, 131.01.
Super Comp -- Nick Cobb, Dragster, 8.906, 172.83 def. Ryan Hansen, Dragster, 8.894, 173.14.
Super Gas -- Mike Wiblishouser, Chevy Corvette, 10.025, 149.46 def. Larry Bradshaw, Corvette, 9.902, 164.55.
Top Sportsman presented by Vortech Superchargers -- Richard Okerman, Chevy Beretta, 7.332, 166.66 def. Phil Miller, Chevy S-10, 7.662, 153.60.
Top Dragster presented by Vortech Superchargers -- Paul Nero, Dragster, 7.141, 187.00 def. Mike Mendenhall, Dragster, 6.407, 216.24.
ROUND ONE -- Clay Millican, 3.843, 305.49 def. Doug Kalitta, 4.287, 232.19; Shawn Langdon, 3.923, 285.77 def. Jim Maroney, 5.503, 124.81; Antron Brown, 3.834, 318.47 def. Steve Torrence, 4.472, 197.10; Leah Pruett, 3.906, 311.77 def. Steven Chrisman, 4.312, 210.87; Mike Salinas, 3.832, 319.29 def. Brandon Welch, 5.620, 119.00; Brittany Force, 3.843, 322.88 was unopposed; Justin Ashley, 3.907, 314.02 def. Buddy Hull, 8.089, 67.99;
QUARTERFINALS -- Ashley, 3.912, 311.49 def. Force, 4.013, 308.99; Pruett, 3.931, 310.27 was unopposed; Brown, 4.127, 254.62 def. Langdon, 4.189, 244.83; Salinas, 3.874, 313.37 def. Millican, 3.975, 264.34;
SEMIFINALS -- Ashley, 3.944, 314.02 def. Brown, 4.024, 269.40; Pruett, 3.927, 311.05 def. Salinas, 4.360, 194.80;
FINAL -- Pruett, 4.021, 247.61 def. Ashley, Broke.
ROUND ONE -- John Force, Chevy Camaro, 4.054, 313.66 def. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.112, 308.99; Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.223, 289.57 def. Blake Alexander, Ford Mustang, 4.342, 248.25; Robert Hight, Camaro, 4.251, 245.90 def. Terry Haddock, Mustang, 10.763, 64.00; Ron Capps, Charger, 4.020, 309.77 def. Bobby Bode, Mustang, 4.180, 263.92; Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 7.972, 77.94 def. Jason Rupert, Mustang, Broke - No Show; Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 4.103, 303.23 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 5.224, 147.37; J.R. Todd, Camry, 4.148, 301.07 def. Jeff Diehl, Camry, 4.510, 229.78; Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.306, 282.95 def. Paul Lee, Charger, 5.475, 137.61;
QUARTERFINALS -- Todd, 4.192, 305.98 def. Hight, 4.192, 302.28; Force, 4.353, 260.46 def. Pedregon, 4.361, 218.37; Capps, 4.151, 296.50 def. Tasca III, 4.278, 288.58; Campbell, 4.314, 271.95 def. DeJoria, 4.797, 175.87;
SEMIFINALS -- Todd, 4.297, 275.34 def. Campbell, 4.531, 206.64; Capps, 4.158, 300.06 def. Force, 4.659, 195.19;
FINAL -- Capps, 4.151, 297.75 def. Todd, 4.289, 286.56.
ROUND ONE -- Chris McGaha, Chevy Camaro, 6.652, 207.88 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.710, 206.61; Aaron Strong, Camaro, 6.642, 207.46 def. Mason McGaha, Camaro, 9.635, 96.85; Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.637, 205.79 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.702, 206.92; Kyle Koretsky, Camaro, 6.642, 206.73 def. Dallas Glenn, Camaro, 6.661, 205.72; Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.655, 206.80 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.707, 205.01; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.606, 206.95 was unopposed; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.620, 206.39 def. Rob Tucker, Dart, 6.776, 203.09; Troy Coughlin Jr., Camaro, 6.618, 205.72 def. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.690, 206.86;
QUARTERFINALS -- Stanfield, 6.673, 205.29 def. Hartford, 6.738, 204.32; Enders, 6.673, 206.39 def. Strong, 6.679, 206.89; Koretsky, 6.665, 207.43 def. Coughlin Jr., 6.647, 205.79; Anderson, 6.648, 207.05 def. C. McGaha, 6.704, 207.11;
SEMIFINALS -- Stanfield, 6.684, 204.76 def. Enders, 6.686, 206.04; Anderson, 6.649, 206.54 def. Koretsky, 6.702, 207.50;
FINAL -- Stanfield, 6.652, 207.69 def. Anderson, 6.660, 207.08.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
ROUND ONE -- Angie Smith, 6.917, 196.70 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 7.020, 177.30; Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 6.937, 196.53 def. Jianna Salinas, Suzuki, 7.032, 192.11; Angelle Sampey, Suzuki, 6.822, 198.35 def. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, Broke - No Show; Scotty Pollacheck, 6.882, 198.82 def. Cory Reed, Suzuki, 7.126, 178.54; Freddie Camarena, Suzuki, 7.031, 193.40 def. Andrew Hines, Buell, 19.190, 38.82; Eddie Krawiec, Buell, 6.884, 199.94 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.913, 195.62; Matt Smith, 6.901, 173.81 was unopposed; Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.843, 197.31 def. Ryan Oehler, 7.017, 194.77;
QUARTERFINALS -- M. Smith, 6.838, 199.82 def. A. Smith, 6.929, 196.76; Krawiec, 6.945, 197.62 def. Camarena, 7.091, 190.24; Sampey, 6.843, 197.10 def. Gladstone, 7.044, 196.53; Pollacheck, 6.891, 197.97 def. Savoie, 6.961, 195.65;
SEMIFINALS -- Sampey, 6.878, 195.42 def. Krawiec, 6.933, 197.91; M. Smith, 6.919, 197.31 def. Pollacheck, 6.965, 197.62;
FINAL -- M. Smith, 6.828, 199.52 def. Sampey, 6.911, 173.96.
Updated Points Standings
1. Steve Torrence, 1,014; 2. Antron Brown, 661; 3. Brittany Force, 605; 4. Leah Pruett, 499; 5. Shawn Langdon, 494; 6. Mike Salinas, 473; 7. Doug Kalitta, 454; 8. Billy Torrence, 448; 9. Justin Ashley, 406; 10. Clay Millican, 383.
1. Ron Capps, 734; 2. Bob Tasca III, 729; 3. John Force, 698; 4. Robert Hight, 697; 5. Matt Hagan, 689; 6. J.R. Todd, 677; 7. Alexis DeJoria, 632; 8. Tim Wilkerson, 552; 9. Cruz Pedregon, 537; 10. Blake Alexander, 343.
1. Greg Anderson, 775; 2. Aaron Stanfield, 629; 3. Erica Enders, 608; 4. Matt Hartford, 546; 5. Dallas Glenn, 524; 6. Mason McGaha, 518; 7. Deric Kramer, 487; 8. Kyle Koretsky, 481; 9. Troy Coughlin Jr., 468; 10. Chris McGaha, 337.
Pro Stock Motorcycle
1. Matt Smith, 813; 2. Steve Johnson, 551; 3. Scotty Pollacheck, 491; 4. Angelle Sampey, 443; 5. Ryan Oehler, 441; 6. Angie Smith, 429; 7. Karen Stoffer, 428; 8. Eddie Krawiec, 409; 9. Joey Gladstone, 389; 10. Andrew Hines, 381.