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Torrence derails Browns attempt to repeat sweep
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JR Todd was the Nitro Funny Car winner. - photo by Photo by Dale Bosowski

SONOMA — Antron Brown’s dream to become the first diver to sweep the Western Swing twice fell just short as Top Fuel points leader Steve Torrence edged him out in the final round in Sunday’s NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series 30th annual Toyota Sonoma Nationals.

Both Torrence (Capco Racing Dragster) and Brown (Matco Tools Dragster), who entered the event 1 and 2 in the season points, blew through their completion to get to their showdown in the finals.  They each had flawless runs in the 3.7 second range in their matchups during the first three rounds to reach the finals

The traditional NHRA Western Swing consists of the Mopar Mile-High Nationals in Colorado, which Brown won last Sunday, Sonoma and concludes next weekend with the Northwest Nationals in Seattle. Brown, who has 64 career wins, was the last driver able to pull off the feat in Top Fuel in 2009.

“This is an all-star final round. They (Torrence) are the team to beat right now. We have our work cut out for us,” said Brown before the finals. “That track is getting hot and turning tricky. We have to go to work and give it everything we got.”

In the final, Torrence was once again flawless laying down a 3.784 second/329.24 mph run while Brown slipped up just a bit with a 3.974/281.83 pass down the strip.

“My team did just an unbelievable job all week long. It was shaking all the way through there. I don’t know if it had a tire out of balance or what,” said Torrence, who picked up his sixth win this year to extend his season points lead over Brown. “We are going to celebrate tonight. I am going to drink some wine and we may even go get a pizza somewhere.”

While track conditions were perfect for Friday night’s qualifying, causing track and national records to fall like rain, the warmer conditions on Sunday caused problems for many of the top teams.

Leah Pritchett (Papa John’s Dragster) piloted to an amazing 3.669 second run for a new track record despite a backfire that slowed her to a speed of 304.80 mph at the finish line and Doug Kallita (Mac Tools Dragster) hit 331.28 mph for a new national record. Both would lose in the second round on Sunday.

Robert Hight (Auto Club of Southern California/California Highway Patrol Chevrolet Camaro) laid down a blistering 3.807/339.87 run on Friday setting a track record for the time and a national record for the speed to earn the #1 qualifying position for Sunday’s Nitro Funny Car finals.

However Hight along with his teammate and car owner John Force (PEAK Chevrolet Camaro), who qualified #2, were both upset in the second round by #8 qualifier Tim Wilkerson and #10 qualifier J.R. Todd, respectively.

Wilkerson (Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Mustang) was fortunate to even be racing this weekend. He suffered a near blow over the week before in Colorado, bending the car’s frame in the incident. He was able to have another frame delivered from his shop on Thursday and would miraculously make it all the way to the finals along with Todd (DHL Toyota Camry).

Wilkerson’s Cinderella story would come to an end in the finals as Todd posted an easy 4.049/323.27 to 6.823/100.26 victory over Wilkerson, who smoked his tires and lost traction half way down the run.

“This year has really tried our patience, but we never gave up,” said Todd, who posted his first career win in Funny Car and in so doing became the 16th driver in NHRA history to win in both Funny Car and Top Fuel. “Man this is so awesome. To win here in Funny Car after winning here last year in Top Fuel. How cool is that!” 

A mild upset also occurred in Pro Stock where #5 qualifier Tanner Gray just nipped season points leader Bo Butner (Jim Butner’s Auto Chevrolet Camaro) 6.572/210.05 to 6.577/210.93 by inches in the finals for his third career win.

“I just want to thank everybody who comes together to make this happen. My family, my grandma and grandpa, I just can’t thank them enough,” said the 18-year-old rookie.

There was no upset in Pro Stock Motorcycle as season points leader LE Tonglet (Mello Yello Pro Stock Motorcycle) outlasted Matt Smith (Polaris Victory Magnum) by an ultra slim 5.783/197.02 to 6.790/190.67 margin in the final pairing.

It was the conclusion of a perfect weekend for Tonglet who on Saturday captured this year’s edition of the Mickey Thompson Tires Pro Bike Battle, beating out seven other top competitors including Eddie Krawiec in the final.

“I couldn’t have dreamed of this in a million years. I knew we were competitive, but I never thought we would be this good. This bike is just flying,” said an elated Tonglet.

The teams pack up and head to Washington for the final stop of the Western Swing with the Northwest Nationals on August 4-6 the 16th of 24 races on the 2017 NHRA schedule.