Three-time defending Top Fuel world champ Steve Torrence finally conquered Houston Raceway Park, racing to the victory on Monday at the 34th annual Mopar Express Lane NHRA SpringNationals presented by Pennzoil at Houston Raceway Park.
Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Matt Hartford (Pro Stock) also won in their respective categories at the fifth race of the 2021 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season. Eliminations were postponed to Monday due to inclement weather on Sunday.
The Texas native Torrence pedaled to a 4.001-second pass at 260.06 mph in his 11,000-horsepower Capco Contractors dragster to beat veteran Doug Kalitta in the final round, earning this third win this season and extending his points lead. He reached the final round with wins against Mitch King and Clay Millican, going an impressive 3.711 at 327.66 and 3.703 at 323.81 to reach the final. The victory is also the 43rd career win for Torrence, who had three final-round appearances in Houston, including one at the race last fall, before coming through with a winning performance on Monday.
“We’ve run well here in the past, but we get to the final round and something always seems to happen. We’ve been snake bit,” Torrence said. “I don’t know if I’ve had win repellant on me or what. The Kalitta boys did an awesome job. This is also the first race I’ve ever won on Monday other than Indy. I just think it’s unbelievable to have the success we’ve had this year and to win in Texas in front of our Capco crew and fans is even more special.”
Kalitta was denied his 50th career win by Torrence in the final round for the second time in 2021. He advanced to his 107th final round on the strength of round wins against Brittany Force, Antron Brown and teammate Shawn Langdon.
In their 70th career meeting in eliminations and ninth time in the final round, it was Hight who got the best of Ron Capps in a matchup of Funny Car heavyweights, with Hight going a stellar 3.916 at 327.19 in his 11,000-horsepower AAA Texas Chevrolet Camaro SS. After struggling at the past two races, Hight and his team got on track in a major way in Houston, capturing his first win since 2019 and the 52nd in his standout career. Hight knocked off Bob Bode, Cruz Pedregon and points leader Bob Tasca III en route to the finals, going 3.909 at 328.78 in his semifinal victory. He followed it with a wire-to-wire win against Capps, giving John Force Racing its second straight Funny Car victory.
“The (Force) car has been the class of the field the last few races and they helped us on Monday after Charlotte,” said Hight, who picked up his fourth win at Houston. “That got us back on track, and (crew chief) Jimmy Prock and this Auto Club team just did their job. These races are hard to win and there’s a lot of good cars out here. This place has a special place in my heart — my first win came here — and after sitting out last year you wonder if you’re ever going to get another one of these.”
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Capps advanced to his 127th career final round and second this season, beating Paul Lee, defending world champ and Don Schumacher Racing teammate Matt Hagan and Tim Wilkerson. He went as quick as 3.894 at 327.51, which gave him the top run in the class during eliminations.
In the Pro Stock final, Hartford enjoyed some good fortune, picking up his first victory of the year in his Total Seal Chevrolet Camaro with a run of 7.660 at 145.11. Final-round opponent Deric Kramer had even more trouble, shaking the tires almost immediately to help hand the victory to Hartford. In reaching his 10th career final round, Hartford impressed in eliminations, beating Kenny Delco, defending world champ Erica Enders on a holeshot and Aaron Stanfield in the semifinals. It gives Hartford four career victories and he enjoyed his first fortuitous bounce of the season.
“We’ve had the power to win all year, but not the luck,” Hartford said. “Texas has been great to us and my lights were pretty decent for a change. We’ve got a great team and everyone has gelled together. KB Racing just creates incredible horsepower. Deric and I were in the finals and our cars were quick all day, so hats off to that engine program.”
Kramer reached the final round thanks to wins against Bruno Massel, points leader Greg Anderson and Kyle Koretsky. It was Kramer’s first final in 2021 and eighth in his career.
The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series returns to action June 11-13 with the TascaParts.com NHRA New England Nationals presented by Bandero Premium Tequila at New England Dragway.