By Tom Zulewski
Iron County Today
LAS VEGAS — Steve Torrence admitted it was hard to find the right combinations to get his Top Fuel dragster down the track at the inaugural NHRA Denso Spark Plugs 4-Wide Nationals on Sunday afternoon.
In spite of his issues, the Top Fuel points leader got the breaks he needed and left with the Wally trophy, beating a 10-time winner at Las Vegas along the way.
Torrence held off No. 1 qualifier Tony Schumacher and won the debut 4-wide event before a sold out crowd at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Torrence Ran the 1,000-foot distance in 3.771 seconds at a speed of 326.63 mph for his second win in four races on the season.
“Can we end the season right now?” Torrence joked. “We rode the struggle bus all the way through qualifying and even stopped in struggle town. Our car did nothing we told it to do and we couldn’t figure out what it was gonna do.”
After qualifying fifth, the independent team got the car dialed in and Torrence made all three runs in under 3.8 seconds. Doug Kalitta was third and Antron Brown came in fourth after smoking the tires near the end of the run.
“I knew our chief engineer (Richard Hogan) was confident throughout the day, “ Torrence said. “The car ended up doing exactly what it was supposed to do.”
But after cruising to the final, Torrence knew the challenge would be formidable.
“Those guys are all legends,” Torrence said. “I watched them growing up, and now I’m racing against them. To have all three of them is like they’re the bad dudes and I’m the kid going ‘what am I doing here?’”
The 34-year-old left no doubt he was in the right place, beating Schumacher to the win light by just eight-thousandths of a second. Torrence improved his point lead to 33 over Schumacher and 43 over Brown.
In the Funny Car final, J.R. Todd gave his Kalitta Motorsports crew a reason to throw a mosh pit at the starting line by beating No. 13 qualifier Jack Beckman with a 4.041-second pass at 317.05 mph.
“All of our teams across the board have come out swinging,” said Todd, who caught a big break when Tommy Johnson Jr. left the start too early. “I’m not a fan of the format, but it’s definitely cool to be the first four-wide winner at Vegas.”
Todd, who admitted he was “confused” as Johnson drove by him, also beat No. 1 qualifier Courtney Force on a hole shot. Force made her pass in 4.007 seconds, but had a slower reaction time of .103 seconds to his .050.
“I didn’t know until I turned the corner and they waved me to the TV guys,” he said. “That’s the confusing part as a driver. At least I’d know I won in two-wide when the win light came on.”
Beckman kept his hold on top of the points by 36 over Force. Todd is sixth, 103 off the pace.
In the Pro Stock final, Vincent Nobile picked up his first win in nearly two years by beating Deric Kramer on another hole shot in the final with a 6.690-second pass at 206.80 mph. No. 1 qualifier Bo Butner was behind in third, and the trio was separated by just .013 seconds.
NHRA Denso Spark Plugs 4-Wide Nationals Finals
Top Fuel: Steve Torrence (3.771 seconds, 326.63 mph) def. Tony Schumacher (3.790, 325.22), Doug Kalitta (3.914, 273.27) and Antron Brown (4.097, 252.52)
Funny Car: J.R. Todd (4.041, 317.05) def. Jack Beckman (4.052, 312.21), Courtney Force (4.007, 300.53) and Tommy Johnson Jr. (foul)
Pro Stock: Vincent Nobile (6.690, 206.80) def. Deric Kramer (6.678, 206.45), Bo Butner (6.682, 206.57) and Chris McGaha (foul)