Back Racing at NHRA E3 Spark Plugs Nationals
NHRA racers, teams and fans had been anxiously awaiting the restart of the 2020 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series for months, when the 10,000-horsepower nitro-burning engines came to life at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis this weekend. After 140 days of silence, racing fans got a glimpse of what the New Normal will look like, as the season resumed in most classes. First, there was a quick temperature check and reminders that masks in the up position were mandatory at all times during the event. Finally, as eager spectators made it inside, big red signs greeted them with the message “STAY CALM & SOCIAL DISTANCE”. Everyone appeared to follow the rules the entire weekend, excepting the part about staying calm. Anyone that follows the World’s Fastest sport knows what it feels like inside your body with the vibration of engine roar and the smell of tire smoke… and it is still just as exciting!
Shaun Langdon in the Strutmasters.com Top Fuel dragster and Justin Ashley driving the DHL-sponsored machine had the honor of igniting race fans with the season relaunch of elimination rounds on Sunday. Langdon was late off the start to Ashley’s .08-second reaction time and the Strutmasters’ dragsters dropped a cylinder at the 650-foot mark. As the day progressed, teams worked feverishly to find the right combination of grip for their drivers on what turned out to be a beautiful day for racing in Indiana. In the Pro Stock final round, Minnesota driver Jason Line claimed his 50th career class win driving the KB Racing/Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro. Jeg Coughlin Jr. made it one of the closest final runs of the day with a .022 RT to Line’s .017 reaction time, but Line prevailed for his first victory of the 2020 season.
As Matt Smith’s crew worked feverishly between runs to complete an engine swap in less than an hour and a half, Ryan Oehler aboard his Flyin’ Ryan Racing/B&K Cylinder Heads EBR motorcycle eliminated Pro Stock Motorcycle favorite Hector Arana Jr. to advance to the championship round for the first time in his career. With a lot of uncertainty about the new motor in Smith’s lane, Oehler posted a .010 RT for 194.16 mph trip to earn his first Wally in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Phoenix Funny Car winner from four months ago, Tommy Johnson Jr., staged alongside Matt Hagan piloting the MDA Anderson Cancer Center ride from Don Schumacher Racing for the finals. Johnson Jr. got a terrible start and Hagan, who was making his first final appearance of 2020, nailed the tree before suffering a catastrophic explosion and coasting to victory.
In Top Fuel, it is never a surprise to see a final round matchup between Kalitta and Torrence. But, on this day, it was Billy Torrence who reached the final round by knocking off his son Steve, the defending and back-to-back NHRA Top Fuel world champion. Billy Torrence is known for being very fast but usually runs a limited schedule in NHRA due to other business commitments. Doug Kalitta, on the other hand, earned his 700th career round win enroute to his 94th final round appearance. The elder Torrence laid down a 3.802 ET to Kalitta’s 3.852 to claim his first win in 2020 and the sixth of his abbreviated career in Top Fuel. Kalitta, who dropped a cylinder right before the finish, leads Steve Torrence by 110 points and Billy Torrence by 122 points going into next weekend’s Summernationals also at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis.