By MIKE BURGHARDT
The 17th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals marks the next to last event of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Season. In addition, it is also the fifth of six events in the “Countdown to the Championship” and it would have a heavy effect on the championship battles in Top Fuel and Funny Car. Coming into the event, Steve Torrence led Brittany Force by 57 points in the Top Fuel Season Championship while Ron Capps had a 26 point lead over Robert Hight in Funny Car. But all of that changed, as both Torrence and Capps were taken out in the second round of eliminations. Torrence, who battled back to a runner-up finish at the event in Dallas two weeks earlier (following a crash; he then lost to Brittany Force in the final round), lost the battle against Shawn Langdon, 3.795 at 318.77 mph to (loss of traction) 4.309 at 222.69 mph. Capps lost the battle against John Force, as both cars lost traction. Unfortunately for Capps, his engine suffered a supercharger backfire and fell silent, as Force smoked his way to the win, putting Capp’s championship hopes in jeopardy. Robert Hight then took out John Force to march into the semi-final round. He then lost to teammate Courtney Force, as he instantly lost traction and could only watch as she streaked into the final round with a 3.928 at 331.36 mph effort. Matt Hagan, who qualified fourth, defeated the number one qualifier, Jack Beckman to earn a trip to the Funny Car final round against Courtney Force. Brittany Force fared better than Hight in her championship battles as she advanced past Shawn Reed, Doug Kalitta and Leah Pritchett to get into the Top Fuel final round. The other final round contestant would be Terry McMillen, who had started 195 events, without a win. He had been to three previous final rounds, this year, and lost in each.
In Funny Car, any hopes of a “Team Force” all female nitro category win came to an end, as Hagan defeated Courtney Force, 3.9542 at 329.40 mph to 4.020 at 320.05 mph, for the event tile.
In Top Fuel, Brittany Force and her Monster Energy Drink team were slightly favored over McMillen and his Amalie Oils “Alligator” dragster team. But, McMillen was not going to be denied of his first career win. Force left too early (-0.063 red light foul) and then had her car lose power at about 800 feet, slowing to a 3.934 at 239.27 mph. McMillen took his first career win with an early shut off 3.870 at 253.99 mph.
In Pro Stock, Greg Anderson moved ever closer to another season title as he took the event win over Bo Butner with a strong 6.698 at 204.70 mph.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Eddie Krawiec needs to only qualify at the season ending event in Pomona, as he won the event over Hector Arana Jr with a 6.924 at 193.16 mph to 6.949 at 192.91 mph effort on his Harley Street Rod motorcycle, to extend his points lead to the verge of clinching.
With the completion of this event, Top Fuel and Funny Car championships are still a tight race. Robert Hight now leads Ron Capps by 15 points, while Brittany Force trails Steve Torrence by only 20 points. Each round of racing represents 20 points, but at the season finale in Pomona, all points are worth 150 percent of the normal values. This will make for some very exciting racing at the season ending AAA of Southern California NHRA Finals, Nov. 10 through 12.