Billy Torrence powered his way to the Top Fuel win on Sunday as the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series raced for the first time since February at the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.
Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock, pictured) and Ryan Oehler (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also won in their respective categories at the third race of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season. It marked NHRA’s first event in more than four months after suspending competition due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Facing off with points leader Doug Kalitta in the final round, Torrence went 3.802 seconds at 322.34 mph in his 11,000-horsepower Capco Contractors dragster to beat Kalitta’s 3.852s at 307.86 in a thrilling side-by-side race. It gave Torrence his first win in 2020 and sixth in his career. Torrence reached the final round by knocking off Terry Totten, T.J. Zizzo, and his son, Steve, the defending and back-to-back Top Fuel world champ.
“To come out here and be able to compete at this level, it’s always gratifying,” Torrence said. “These boys worked so hard to give me a competitive car. If you can’t have fun doing this, you can’t have fun doing anything. For the people that come out here to put these events on and for all the people trying to keep all of us safe and all, just thank you. We (also) need to thank the good Lord for us being out here as a family and being able to enjoy the freedoms to come out here and drag race.”
Kalitta picked up round wins against Lex Joon, Leah Pruett and Antron Brown to advance to his 94th final round, also earning his 700th career round win. Kalitta has now advanced to the final round at every race in 2020.
Funny Car’s Hagan drove to his first win of the season in his 11,000-horsepower Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, beating Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. in the final round with a 4.328 at 215.00. It gave the two-time world champ his 34th career win, and he advanced to his 61st final round thanks to victories against both Daniel and Tim Wilkerson, as well as DSR teammate and points leader Jack Beckman.
“We’re so glad to be doing this here with NHRA and fans in the stands,” Hagan said. “I can’t just say enough about NHRA and this team. These guys are my family and what an amazing job by my crew chief Dickie Venables. He’s dangerous when you give him a couple laps.”
Johnson, the No. 1 qualifier at the event, reached his 54th final round by knocking off teammate Ron Capps, Blake Alexander and J.R. Todd.
In a battle of retiring Pro Stock drivers, top qualifier Line knocked off No. 2 qualifier Jeg Coughlin in a thrilling final round, going 6.647 at 207.21 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro to slip past Coughlin’s 6.658 at 206.76. Line picked up his first win this season and 51st in his career, also extending his incredible streak to 17 consecutive seasons with a victory. Line’s road to the finals included victories against Alan Prusiensky, Alex Laughlin and KB Racing teammate Greg Anderson.
“I wish I could see my dad’s face because he’s big into streaks and it was very important to him that I win one race every race that I’ve done this, and we got it done today,” said Line, who has 104 final round appearances. “I want to thank Greg because he worked his tail off through all this to give us good stuff.”
Coughlin, who won the opening race of the season in Pomona and moved into the points lead, beat Bruno Massel, Chris McGaha and defending world champ Erica Enders to reach the final round for the 113th time.
It was the perfect start to the Pro Stock Motorcycle season for Oehler, who won his first career NHRA race in his first final round, going 6.974 at 194.16 on his Flyin’ Ryan Racing/B&K Cylinder Heads EBR to defeat Matt Smith. After qualifying fifth, Oehler knocked off Marc Ingwersen, Scotty Pollacheck and Hector Arana Jr. to advance to the championship round for the first time in his career. He posted a remarkable .010 reaction time and never trailed en route to the biggest moment of his PSM career.
“We’ve been hunting for this for a long time,” Oehler said. “This has been my dad’s dream and we just keep working every day. When we pulled up to the line, I knew it was going to try to pull me through the beams. I waited to go on the two-step until that very last second and when it dropped, I knew we had a good light. Just to have it all come together for my dad, my mom, my wife, my team, I love it all.”
Smith, who qualified second, beat Chris Bostick, Angelle Sampey and defending world champ Andrew Hines to reach the final round for the 55th time. His 6.855 in the first round was the best for the weekend in the class.
The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series continues next weekend with the Lucas Oil NHRA Summernationals at Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Raceway.