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NHRA Thunders Into The Wine Country Of Sonoma
Mother of the late Eric Medlen, Mimi of Oakdale, poses with Funny Car winner JR Todd and a special custom Funny Car drawing she gave him for inspiration this weekend in Sonoma. Photo By Mike Burghardt

The 30th annual NHRA Toyota Sonoma Nationals featured several surprises. The biggest was Robert Hight in Funny Car. Driving his “California Highway Patrol” tribute Chevy Camaro, Hight set the drag racing world on its ears in the second round of qualifying Friday night. He uncorked an amazing 3.807 second run at 339.87 mph, resetting the NHRA speed record with the fastest run ever done in either Top Fuel or Funny Car, even when these cars actually ran a quarter-mile distance (this has been shortened to 1000 feet for safety, since 2008). This performance would stand as the #1 qualifying spot for Funny Car. His elapse time set a new track record.

In Top Fuel, Steve Torrence and his CAPCO team struggled a little bit in qualifying, but did get a good run in for the #6 spot. From there, he ran low elapse time each round to advance into his eighth final round of the season. On the other side of the Top Fuel ladder was three-time champion Antron Brown. Brown marched from a #4 qualifying positon into a final round match up with Torrence, with the second best elapse time each round of racing. Torrence left with the better reaction time (0.051 to 0.062) and marched to a strong 3.784 at 329.42 mph to 3.974 at 281.83 mph win, as Brown’s engine lost fire in a cylinder (a loss of over 1000 horsepower). It was Torrence’s sixth win of the season in eight final round appearances.

In Funny Car, the big surprises were JR Todd and Tim Wilkerson. Todd and his DHL Toyota team struggled in qualifying, ending up 10th. Wilkerson damaged two cars at the event in Denver, one week earlier so his Levi, Ray and Shoupe team had to travel from Denver to Indianapolis, on their way to Sonoma, to pick up a brand new chassis. Then, once at the Sonoma race track, they had to assemble the entire car. Wilkerson ended up qualifying eighth. What did these two racers have in common? They found the “magic” performance and some “racer’s luck” to get into the final round. Todd had a strong friendship with the late Eric Medlen of Oakdale, making this track special to him. Todd won in Top Fuel at Sonoma in 2006, when Medlen won in Funny Car. He also won in Top Fuel last season. Last season, Medlen’s mom, Mimi of Oakdale, gave Todd a special dragster drawing that stated “win this one for Eric Medlen.” And that is what Todd did. This year, she did the same thing with a custom Funny Car drawing. And, once again, Todd took the win. This time it was over Wilkerson in a Funny Car. He has now won once in a Funny Car and twice in a Top Fuel dragster. He dedicated this one (as with last year) to his friend, Eric Medlen.

In Pro Stock, Tanner Gray in his Gray Family racing team Camaro defeated Bo Butner and his Chevy Camaro, to take the event win. It was a special win for Gray as his aunt, Terry Chandler passed away from brain cancer only three weeks ago. Chandler was a very special person, who sponsored two Funny Cars to promote two worthy organizations. One was the “Make-A-Wish” foundation and the other was the “Infinite Heroes” foundation for wounded veterans. These banners are proudly displayed on the Funny Cars of Tommy Johnson and Jack Beckman.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, LE Tonglet pulled off the “double up” as he won the special shootout (race within a race) and then took home the event title. He rode his Suzuki TL1000 to victory over Matt Smith and his 2017 Victory Motorcycle, 6.783 at 197.02 mph to 6.790 at 196.67 mph. The 200 mph barrier for this category was nearly reached three times during the event by three different riders (Matt Smith - 199.88, Hector Arana Jr - 199.52 and Andrew Hines - 199.20 mph).