- Steve Torrence gets Top Fuel monkey off his back with first 2022 victory.
- Bob Tasca III takes sizzling streak into regular-season finale at Indianapolis.
- Countdown strategy at full tilt, though six-race playoff starts in mid-September.
Ron Capps said, “Most of us racers, me for sure, have always grabbed the red pen and circled the Brainerd race on the schedule.”
They love the resort atmosphere and birch-dotted natural beauty of this northern Minnesota woods . . . and the famous—or infamous—“Zoo,” the on-site campground at which even the racetrack website guarantees “shenanigans.”
But racers know this NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway traditionally is just that last hurdle to clear before the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis. And the Labor Day classic, where the Countdown to the Championship fields are finalized, is just a stepping stone to the six-race free-for-all with pre-pandemic purses at stake.
This is the time of year when racers aim to exhibit peak performance. And for Sunday’s winners, Steve Torrence in Top Fuel and Bob Tasca III in Funny Car, they’re executing their plans.
Neither would boast that this is the way he had planned it. Torrence has said all season long that to keep ahead of the competition which has made enough performance gains to encroach on his dominating four-year Top Fuel reign, his Capco Contractors Dragster team needed to sacrifice a few victories to test new parts and new approaches. But he hadn’t anticipated going 15 races before he would return to the winners circle.
Tasca had hoped to carry over his momentum from winning the 2021 season finale (just like Torrence did that day last November) and deliver on his promise to Ford that if it returned to the sport, he would bring Blue Oval championships. However, his trajectory planed out early in the season while Robert Hight from John Force Racing and Matt Hagan from Tony Stewart Racing arm-wrestled for the trophies most of the season and Capps kept inserting his name into the conversation as a new team owner.
Tasca knew he had to break from his mid-pack mediocrity and make a move. And he got a little nudge from former Funny Car racer and current TV analyst Tony Pedregon, one of his dearest friends.
Just before the Norwalk event, Pedregon told Tasca, who was mired in eighth place in the standings at the time, “You realize something? If you don’t get your s— together, you ain’t going to be in the conversation.”
Tasca said he understood that, as well, and Pedregon added, “The next few races are going to be a big deal.”
They have been for Tasca. After winning last weekend at Topeka, Tasca said, “Four final rounds in the last five [races], two wins, two No. 1 qualifiers . . . I think we got our s— in gear.” Make that five finals in the past six events and three triumphs for the Rhode Island-based third-generation auto dealer and drag racer. At Brainerd, he recorded low elapsed time or top speed on a finicky racing surface – and in the quarterfinals and the final, he clocked both.
Tasca aced out Capps in the final Sunday, denying Capps his seventh Brainerd victory and his 70th Funny Car “Wally” statue (named for NHRA founder Wally Parks). It was Tasca’s 12th victory in his 26th overall final round. It was also his third event win in four races.
Torrence Overcome ‘Terrible Year’
Torrence once again remembered Sunday afternoon what it felt like to win. He did it at Tony Schumacher’s expense, halting Schumacher’s bid for a second victory in three races.
Earlier in the weekend, Torrence had said, “We’ve had a terrible year.” That hardly was true, considering he never had been worse in the standings than fourth place and even was points leader for a stint in April. He entered this event with an above-.500 eliminations record (20-14, which has improved to 24-14).
He conceded that “‘terrible’ was a pretty strong word. That was probably an overstatement. But when you’ve had the success and the dominance that we’ve had, it’s difficult to not have that (feeling). But you’ve just got to dig through it. When we don’t win and everybody’s asking us, ‘What’s wrong?’ and ‘What’s happened?’ it’s difficult. We didn’t forget how to win, but dang, it sure felt like it. Maybe we’re getting our crap together at the right time, because we’re charging for that No. 5 (championship).”
Torrence leapfrogged Justin Ashley and trimmed semifinal finisher Brittany Force’s lead from 162 points to 130 with one more race remaining before the sanctioning body erases everyone’s achievements and separates the top 10 racers in 10-point increments (except the leader, who has a 20-point head start).
Mike Salinas remains second in the standings, but his first-round loss meant he dropped from just 31 points off the pace to 94.
Tasca moved ahead of John Force into fourth place in the Funny Car rankings. Hight, who bowed out in the semifinals Sunday, held onto his command as the Camping World Drag Racing Series heads to Indianapolis for the Sept. 1-5 Dodge Power Brokers U.S. Nationals. Top Brainerd qualifier Matt Hagan still is in second place and Capps third.
Why Indianapolis is So Important
The biggest twist in the championship points calculations will come at Indianapolis.
The race awards points and a half, both for qualifying bonus points and eliminations results. At every other regular-season race, the winner earns 100 points, the runner-up 80, semifinal finisher 60, second-round finisher 40, and first-round finisher 20. At the U.S. Nationals, the structure is 150-120-90-60-30. So that could scramble the standings before the 10-point spacing takes place. (The sanctioning body does the same at the Finals at Pomona, Calif., in November, tossing more drama into the mix.)
Qualifying bonus points go the racers with the quickest, second-quickest, and third-quickest in each session. A maximum of nine points are up for grabs at the start of a race with three qualifying sessions, 12 points at a race with four qualifying sessions. That will change at Indianapolis. In each session, the racers posting the four quickest times will gain points on a scale of 4-3-2-1.
Moreover—and this is where it helps to have a degree in mathematics or at least an aptitude for it—drivers get points based on their positions in the qualifying order. At most races, it’s calculated on an 8-7-6-5 scale with four points to Nos. 5 and 6, three points to Nos. 7 and 8, two points to Nos. 9-12, and one point to Nos. 13-16. U.S. Nationals qualifiers receive points, respectively, on a 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3 basis.
So teams need to have their calculators handy as this 15th edition of the Countdown approaches.
The Countdown will begin with the Sept. 16-18 Pep Boys Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway at Reading, Pa.
Lucas Oil NHRA National Results
Sunday’s final results from the 40th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway. The race is the 15th of 22 in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series:
Top Fuel — Steve Torrence, 3.866 seconds, 322.04 mph def. Tony Schumacher, 3.942 seconds, 286.50 mph.
Funny Car — Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.945, 329.42 def. Ron Capps, Toyota Supra, 4.007, 327.66.
Top Alcohol Dragster — Shawn Cowie, 5.218, 276.75 def. Matthew Cummings, 5.282, 267.27.
Top Alcohol Funny Car — Shane Westerfield, Chevy Camaro, 5.529, 265.53 def. Bob McCosh, Camaro, 6.117, 203.28.
Competition Eliminator — Brett Speer, ’23-T Ford, 7.272, 180.67 def. Bruno Massel, Cobalt, 7.023, 195.17.
Super Stock — Mike Mans, Pontiac Firebird, 8.807, 138.61 def. Wyatt Wagner, Chevy Camaro, 9.697, 133.50.
Stock Eliminator — Tracy Fairchild, AMX, 10.904, 110.79 def. Ron Feist, Ford Fairlane, Foul – Red Light.
Super Comp — Tony Leonard, Dragster, 8.903, 162.82 def. Craig Anderson, Dragster, 8.920, 188.12.
Super Gas — Trevor Larson, Chevy Camaro, 9.890, 164.69 def. Kevin Dyck, Chevy Chevy Corvette, 9.881, 171.34.
Top Sportsman presented by Vortech Superchargers — Brian Antony, DodgeAvenger, 6.904, 199.79 def. Michael Chitty, Chevy Cavalier, 6.702, 196.59.
Top Dragster presented by Vortech Superchargers — Dylan Hough, Dragster, 6.823, 191.43 def. Anthony Bertozzi, Dragster, 7.197, 177.88.
Pro Modified — Rickie Smith, Ford Mustang, 5.791, 250.92 def. Doug Winters, Chevy Chevelle, 5.997, 240.34.
Mountain Motor Pro Stock — JR Carr, Chevy Camaro, 6.345, 221.05 def. John DeFlorian Jr, Camaro, Broke.
Pro Mod Snowmobile — Robbie Lowe, Thunder Cat, 5.014, 134.52 def. Louie Wirbel, SRX, 5.081, 136.00.
D-Wagon Pro Mod Shootout — Kris Thorne, Chevy Camaro, 5.762, 250.88 def. Steve Jackson, Camaro, 6.864, 126.85.
Round By Round
Final round-by-round results from the 40th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway, the 15th of 22 events in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series:
ROUND ONE — Josh Hart, 3.710, 334.73 def. Scott Farley, 14.412, 36.59; Antron Brown, 3.688, 328.22 def. Clay Millican, 3.721, 327.51; Brittany Force, 3.646, 333.58 was unopposed; Justin Ashley, 3.720, 331.94 def. Krista Baldwin, 3.817, 319.52; Shawn Langdon, 3.760, 329.34 def. Leah Pruett, 3.822, 279.85; Steve Torrence, 3.755, 313.37 def. Mike Salinas, 5.286, 136.36; Tony Schumacher, 3.940, 292.27 def. Doug Kalitta, 5.349, 118.13; Billy Torrence, 4.050, 236.38 def. Austin Prock, 4.480, 237.21;
QUARTERFINALS — Schumacher, 4.227, 201.16 def. Hart, 10.848, 78.57; Force, 4.394, 255.63 def. B. Torrence, 4.586, 213.40; S. Torrence, 4.945, 255.19 def. Brown, 5.335, 247.25; Ashley, 3.726, 330.63 def. Langdon, 3.807, 324.44;
SEMIFINALS — S. Torrence, 5.400, 276.07 def. Force, 10.392, 66.09; Schumacher, 4.336, 226.32 def. Ashley, 4.936, 292.71;
FINAL — S. Torrence, 3.866, 322.04 def. Schumacher, 3.942, 286.50.
ROUND ONE — Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 9.940, 71.63 was unopposed; Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.891, 330.63 def. Dale Creasy Jr., Charger, 3.967, 327.43; Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.874, 329.02 def. Steven Densham, Mustang, Foul – Red Light; Ron Capps, Toyota Supra, 3.931, 325.45 def. John Force, Camaro, 4.022, 284.99; Bobby Bode, Mustang, 3.931, 316.08 def. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 3.947, 322.65; Chad Green, Mustang, 3.975, 311.85 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 9.807, 99.47; J.R. Todd, Supra, 3.898, 327.90 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.637, 181.57; Alexis DeJoria, Supra, 3.967, 299.80 def. Blake Alexander, Mustang, 4.241, 295.21;
QUARTERFINALS — Capps, 8.539, 87.94 def. Bode, Broke; Tasca III, 3.945, 326.24 def. Green, 4.089, 284.15; Hight, 4.356, 284.27 def. Todd, 4.451, 221.16; DeJoria, 5.712, 229.31 def. Hagan, 6.187, 259.81;
SEMIFINALS — Capps, 3.955, 329.99 def. DeJoria, Foul – Red Light; Tasca III, 3.926, 326.08 def. Hight, 4.646, 200.44;
FINAL — Tasca III, 3.945, 329.42 def. Capps, 4.007, 327.66.
Updated Points Standings
Point standings (top 10) following the 40th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway, the 15th of 22 events in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series –
Brittany Force, 1,206; 2. Mike Salinas, 1,112; 3. Steve Torrence, 1,076; 4. Justin Ashley,1,070; 5. Josh Hart, 797; 6. (tie) Shawn Langdon, 761; Leah Pruett, 761; 8. Tony Schumacher, 703; 9. Doug Kalitta, 692; 10. Antron Brown, 668.
1. Robert Hight, 1,411; 2. Matt Hagan, 1,161; 3. Ron Capps, 1,105; 4. Bob Tasca III, 1,043; 5. John Force, 1,033; 6. J.R. Todd, 789; 7. Alexis DeJoria, 775; 8. Cruz Pedregon, 752; 9. Tim Wilkerson, 645; 10. Chad Green, 524.