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Season Champions Crowned At NHRA Finals
NHRA champions.jpg
Champions triumphantly raise their trophies at the season finale in Pomona, concluding the 2018 Mello Yello drag racing series. Photo By Mike Burghardt

The NHRA Auto Club Finals closed out the season in style. With Steve Torrence having clinched the Mello Yello series Top Fuel title in Las Vegas, two weeks earlier, the titles for Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle would be determined here.

In Top Fuel, Torrence and his Capco team had one final goal to achieve and that was to become the first driver/team to sweep the six-race playoffs. Torrence came in with five wins (20 straight rounds of racing without a loss). It wasn’t all “smooth sailing” as he had a slight stumble in the opening round against Cameron Ferre. His dragster had a momentary loss of traction, which could have ended his chances, if not for his quick reactions and driving skills. He was able to quickly get on and off the throttle (pedaled) and save the run, defeating Ferre. From that point on he became unstoppable. Torrence defeated his dad, Billy with a 3.674 at 331.20 mph to 3.712 at 329.10 mph effort to take the Torrence family bragging rights. He then defeated Brittany Force in a close 3.705 at 328.78 mph to 3.708 at 332.18 mph race to advance into the final round. The final round featured Torrence against the winningest driver in NHRA Top Fuel history, nine-time champion Tony Schumacher. Torrence was up to the challenge, getting away first (0.029 to 0.053) to take the win with a 3.702 at 330.07 mph to 3.700 at 331.621 mph “holeshot” victory. This made Torrence the only driver in NHRA history to “sweep” the play-offs, by winning every elimination round and all six events. For this, he was awarded a special championship belt in addition to the championship trophy and payout.

In Funny Car, Robert Hight was taken out in the opening round by Bob Tasca III, allowing JR Todd and his DHL Toyota team to clinch the season championship. Todd then went on to win the event, by taking out Jim Campbell, Bob Tasca III and Tommy Johnson in the finals round. Todd was able to defeat Johnson with a strong 3.872 at 329.10 mph to 3.889 at 327.51 mph winning effort.

In Pro Stock, young Tanner Gray ran the table. He defeated his dad, Shane Gray in the opening stanza, 6.531 at 210.57 mph to 6.549 at 211.00 mph. He then completed his goal to win the championship and the race, as he defeated Erica Enders, Jason Line and Drew Skillman in the final. Gray’s reaction times were phenomenal in each of the four rounds (0.002, 0.003, 0.020 and 0.10 seconds).

At 19, Gray is the youngest driver to ever win a professional season championship in NHRA history. Next season, his plans are to start his NASCAR racing career as he will moving from straight line racing to “Roundy-round” racing.

The Pro Stock Motorcycle championship was decided in the final found, as Matt Smith and Eddie Krawiec squared off for all the marbles. Smith had the dominating bike in competition as he turned in several runs at over 200 mph and under 6.80-seconds. In the final, he defeating Krawiec with strong 6.765 at 201.22 mph to 6.812 at 198.35mph effort, as both riders left together (0.026 to 0.026).

In an amazing statistical note, this event featured the unique outcome where all four professional category season champions were also the event champions at the final event of the season.

In a special note, Steve Wann of Modesto collected his seventh career NHRA national event win in the Super Stock eliminator/Lucas Oil Sportsman racing category.