SONOMA — Nitro division drivers Brittany Force and Bob Tasca III scorched the competition on their way to convincing victories in Top Fuel and Funny Car during final eliminations at the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Denso Sonoma Nationals on Sunday.
Brittany Force, the daughter of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force, disposed of teammate Austin Prock, four-time reigning Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence and Shaun Langdon in the first three rounds to set up a showdown with 2022 points leader Mike Salinas in the finals.
With the help of near perfect track conditions thanks to the mild temperatures, which ranged in the mid-70s all day, Force set a Sonoma Raceway track record for low ET with a 3.662 second run versus Prock and then broke the track’s top speed record on three consecutive runs capped off by a blistering 337.75 mph pass against Langdon in the semifinals.
After struggling in their first two qualifying runs on Friday and Saturday, Force’s crew chief David Grubnic found the perfect setup in the team’s final run on Saturday to earn the second seed for Sunday’s 16-car finals field.
“We struggled a little bit in qualifying, but Grubnic always wants more and keeps pushing” admitted Force. “When you push that hard you take risks to run that way and keep improving.”
In the final round, Force was first off the line and posted a 3.709-second run at 335.48 mph run to nip Salinas by just over a car length to earn her fourth win of the season and 15th of her career. The victory also pushed her to the front of the Top Fuel standings by a slim 982 to 976 margin over Salinas after 12 of 22 events on the 2022 schedule.
“I have always wanted to win here in Sonoma. I have been coming here with my dad since I was a kid. I ran Super Comp and Alcohol Fuelers and now we finally got into the winner’s circle,” exclaimed Force. “This is a big one. It feels incredible because we finally pulled it off."
After reaching the Funny Car finals in the previous two events, where he was beaten by three-time Funny Car champion Robert Hight, Bob Tasca III would not be denied on Sunday as he took out John Force with a 3.911 seconds/ 325.61 mph pass in the final round to pick up his first win of the season and 10th of his career.
“First I want to apologize to all our fans. It took way too long to get our Ford in the winner’s circle this year,” said Tasca. “That car was so good today that you could have almost taken a fan out of the stands, put him in it and ran in the 3.8s. I barely had to touch the wheel.”
Like Brittany Force, Tasca was the model of consistency as he posted runs of 3.875/330.07, 3.875/329.91 and 3.907/326.87 while dispatching Jason Rupert, Blake Alexander and his nemesis Robert Hight in the first three rounds of eliminations.
Despite the fact that defending champion Matt Hagen, Hight and Ron Capps have dominated the first half of the 2022 season by combining to win all of the previous races, Tasca feels he also needs to be considered a serious contender for the championship.
“We are here to win championships and as long as you can stay in the top five or six, anyone can win the championship once you get into the playoffs,” explained Tasca. “But you have to be consistent to win and I think we threw our hat in the ring with our performance today.”
Erica Enders remained in firm control of the Pro Stock division in her quest for a fifth championship as she raced to her sixth win of the season and 39th of her career on Sunday.
After marching through the field in the first three rounds, Enders needed a holeshot to defeat veteran Greg Anderson in the finals to deny the five-time Pro Stock champion his 100th career victory. Anderson was comfortably ahead in the run until she began to slow about 100 feet from the finish line after her engine suddenly let go.
“My guys really rallied today. We had to change a bunch of stuff in the pits and I just threw my helmet on and went. It was a rough final,” said Enders. “I have never won here in 18 years of Pro Stock racing so this means a whole bunch to me. I always dreamed of drinking wine out of that goblet. This is super, super cool.”
Joey Gladstone also used a holeshot to knock off four-time champion Ed Krawiec in the finals for Pro Stock Motorcycle to score the first victory of his career after failing to win in his previous four final appearances.
Gladstone survived a scare in his opening round match against Jianna Evarsito after a problem forced him to shut off and refire his engine just prior to the start of the run. Things went more smoothly in the next two rounds as Gladstone proceeded to outduel Katie Sullivan and Jerry Savoie to reach the final.
“I never thought I’d see this day, no, that’s a lie, I saw the light at the end of the tunnel and thought I could do this,” admitted Gladstone, age 31. “I’ve dedicated 20 years of my life to this, and now I’ve accomplished it. This means more to me than you could ever imagine.”
Unfortunately, it was a short weekend for Manteca’s Chris Thode, who was eliminated in Saturday’s opening round for Top Dragster Sportsman class.