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NHRA Mello Yello Series Thunders To Safe Return
Top Fuel NHRA action over the weekend in Indiana saw Billy Torrence defeat his son, Steve, in the semi-final round and take down Doug Kalitta, who had won the season opening event in February, in the finals to earn the victory. Photo By Mike Burghardt

The first of two special racing events was completed at the famed Lucas Oil Raceway Park, home of the Chevrolet Performance Parts US Nationals in Claremont, Indiana. The two events (also known as the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals Indy 1 and Indy 2) are being contested on consecutive weekends. To meet the COVID-19 social distancing policies, for the safety of all participants and fans, the event attendance was restricted to approximately 2000 to 2500 fans on each of the two days. All participants and fans were required to wear the appropriate protective face masks and all persons entering the racing complex had their temperatures taken, as per CDC guidelines. Free hand sanitizers were given out to all in attendance at entry and whenever needed.

The biggest news involved the absence of the John Force Racing team (John Force, Brittany Force, Robert Hight and Austin Prock). There is no official word yet on the future plans of the team for the 2020 season.

In Top Fuel, Steve Torrence captured the top spot with a 3.779 at 321.19 mph. Torrence, who was the winner of the last event before the COVID lockdown, looked to be a sure winner of the first event back. But, his dad, Billy Torrence showed him who was the boss, as he took him out in the semi-final round. In the final round, the elder Torrence squared off against Doug Kalitta, who had won the season opening event in February. Kalitta cut an amazing 0.018 reaction time, but Torrence caught him to win by about six-feet. Torrence went 3.802 at 322.34 mph to Kalitta’s 3.852 at 307.86 mph.

In Funny Car, Tommy Johnson Jr, who had won at the last event before COVID-19 in Phoenix, looked like the favorite to go to the winner’s circle again. Johnson was consistently quicker and faster than the rest of the field, throughout eliminations. Heavy hitters like Ron Capps and the Napa Dodge, Jack Beckman and the Infinite Heroes Dodge, Matt Hagan and the MOPAR Dodge and JR Todd and the DHL Toyota were running very strong. Then there was surprising Paul Lee and his Global Electronics Toyota. Lee turned in the quickest elapse time in the class at 3.888 seconds, but was disqualified for clipping a center line cone.

In the end, it would be Johnson vs. Hagan. Hagan got away first, and pulled away when Johnson’s car shut off. Hagan then exploded the supercharger on his engine, but had enough momentum to take a 4.328 at 215.00 mph to 5.854 at 117.84 mph win.

In Pro Stock, the final round featured two drivers that announced at the season opener, that they were retiring at the end of the season. Jeg Coughlin and Jason Line are both multiple season champions in the Pro Stock category. Coughlin, known as one of the best drivers in the category, with superb stating line reaction skills met his match. Line left first 0.017 to 0.022 and ran quicker (6.647 at 207.21 mph to 6.658 at 206.76 mph) to collect his first win of the season. His win completed the trifecta in the four-wheel pro categories as each of the first three races had a different winner; Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock.

This was the first event of the season for the Pro Stock Motorcycles and Ryan Oehler made the most of it, as he took out the 2019 Season Champion, Andrew Hines in the final round to claim his first career NHRA national event title.

The next event (also two days in length) will be at the same track on July 17 and 18. The NHRA has taken all the steps, and then some, necessary to facilitate a safe return to racing.