The 19th annual Dodge NHRA Nationals – hosted over the past weekend in Las Vegas – is the 23rd of 24 season events and the fifth of the six events in the “Countdown to the Championship.” With the completion of this event, three drivers are within 86 points of points leader Steve Torrence for the Top Fuel Championship. In Funny Car, three drivers are within 72 points of leader Robert Hight and Erica Enders now leads the Pro Stock category by 92 points over Jeg Coughlin. Only Andrew Hines, Pro Stock Motorcycle, heads to the final event with a fairly secure lead. The final event is worth 150 percent of the normal point value (150 points to win).
In Top Fuel at Las Vegas, Brittany Force qualified second with a strong 3.659 at 338.17 mph, the fastest speed in NHRA Top Fuel history. Force marched through a tough field, taking out Pat Dakin, teammate Austin Prock and Billy Torrence to take on the reigning champion, Steve Torrence.
Torrence and his CAPCO Contractors team was beginning to regain that dominating performance that resulted in the 2018 championship. Force was ready for the task, as she was starting to gain starting line reaction time advantages over opponents. In the final, she left first (0.076-0.093) on Torrence and never looked back, as she drove away to a 3.652 at 334.73 mph to 3.719 at 330.63 mph victory. Her final round speed was top speed of the event. The win brings her to within 16 points of Torrence, going into the final event of the season in Pomona, California later this month.
In Funny Car, the top three drivers, Robert Hight, Jack Beckman and John Force all stumbled. Hight and Force were gone by the end of the second round and Beckman was taken out in the semi-final round by part-time racer, Jonnie Lindberg. This opened the door for Matt Hagan, who took advantage. Hagan defeated Lindberg in the final round, 3.876 at 331.36 mph to 3.945 at 321.13 mph. The win is the fourth of the season for Hagan and moves him into third in the championship battle, a mere 56 points behind Hight. The NHRA Finals in Pomona is now a tight four-way battle between Hight, Beckman, Hagan and Force. If John Force should win his 17th championship, he would be the oldest driver, at the age of 70, to win a season title in auto racing history.
Erica Enders and her Elite Motorsports team have found their oats, regaining the performance edge they had three years ago. Enders marched past a tight field consisting of Steve Graham, Alex Laughlin and Bo Butner to get into the final round. In the final, she defeated teammate Jeg Coughlin. She left first (0.018 to 0.062) and drove away to her second win of the season, 6.617 at 208.04 mph to 6.620 at 201.70 mph.
Matt Smith defeated Steve Johnson (6.855 at 195.90 mph to 6.863 at 194.04 mph) to take claim his second event win of the season in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Though he did win the event, Andrew Hines still holds a commanding 85 point lead over second place Jerry Savoie.
The NHRA finals should feature a tough battle in all four of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series professional categories, especially the highly popular Top Fuel and Funny Car events.