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Sonoma Nationals: NHRA Faces Adversity In Wine Country
Todd 8-2
Overcoming adversity and taking the victory in Funny Car was JR Todd, returning to the winner’s circle for the first time in nearly two years, getting the win at Sonoma Raceway over the weekend. Photo By Mike Burghardt

It was a difficult race weekend in Wine Country, full of adversity. The weather in Sonoma was warm, but not as hot as projected for the DENSO NHRA Sonoma Nationals. In fact, the conditions looked like they could provide for some record runs. With $30,000 up for grabs for the first driver/team in the nitro categories to go 300 mph by the 1/8-mile mark (approximately half track), the crew chiefs were licking their chops. Brittany Force and her team were the favorites, as she – thanks to her crew chief, David Grubnic – owned eight of 10 of the quickest elapse times and highest speeds in the category. She owns both national records. But, track conditions would not cooperate, as a mechanical failure in a different race class caused havoc with the track. It took several hours and continuous effort by the NHRA track and safety team (Safety Safari) to get the track back to somewhat normal conditions. The crew chiefs had to dig down deep into their back of tricks just to get their cars to make competitive full track runs.

Three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion, Antron Brown, had to use remarkable skill to keep control of his dragster, when the rear wing on his car nearly broke off. Without that nearly 10,000 lbs. of downforce, his car could have gone completely out of control. But, reacting quickly and with great skill, his car suffered no further damage. Brown ended up qualifying third and advanced to the final round, taking out Brittany Force and Steve Torrence along the way. Torrence, who was starting to get that championship swagger back, exploded his supercharger on the starting line in the second round of elimination; it was a single/bye run. On the other side of the ladder was Justin Ashley, who took out Doug Kalitta, Austin Prock (#1 qualifier) and Josh Hart in his path to the final round. In the final round, Brown got away first (0.059 to 0.067) and looked to have a sure victory. But Ashley was not going to go away that easy, as he got past Brown at the finish line to take a 3.778 at 328.78 mph to 3.787 at 327.90 mph win. With this fifth win of the season, Ashley takes over the championship point lead.

In Funny Car, J.R. Todd collected his first event win in more than two years. Todd got past Blake Alexander, Bob Tasca III (#1 qualifier) and Matt Hagan in his march to the final round. Chad Green, seeking his first career event win in Funny Car, eliminated Cruz Pedregon, Paul Lee and Ron Capps (defending series champion) to advance to the final round. In the final, Chad left first (0.063 to 0.076) but could not hold off Todd, who took the win with a 3.972 at 322.81 mph to 4.039 at 314.17 mph effort. For Todd, it was a total emotional relief to finally get back into the winner’s circle after almost two years of adversity. Hew now sits eighth in the series point standings, while Green took over third.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, rookie Gaige Herrera simply won again. He collected his sixth event win in the eight events contested. He scored the quickest elapse time in the class at 6.728-seconds, as he took out Ryan Oehler, Marc Ingwersen, Karen Stoffer and Matt Smith. He also won the special PEP Boys Allstar Pro Stock Motorcycle Call Out race, a race within a race event run during qualifying, defeating Angie Smith in that final round. This season, he has only lost two events and two rounds of racing. By winning the Sonoma event, Herrera (who also won Denver and Seattle) completed the western swing with a sweep. This was the first time this had been done by any racer since 2012, when Antron Brown accomplished it in Top Fuel. This was the first time, ever, in Pro Stock Motorcycle, as the class had never raced at all three events of the western swing before.

Pro Stock was not contested at this event this year.

Torrence 8-2
Looking for a strong weekend showing in Sonoma, it didn’t turn out that way for Steve Torrence, who exploded his supercharger on the starting line in the second round of eliminations. Photo By Mike Burghardt
Herrera 8-2
It was rookie Gaige Herrera winning the Pro Stock Motorcycle event at the Sonoma Raceway, capturing his sixth national event victory out of eight races he has run so far this season. Photo By Mike Burghardt