Four-time defending Top Fuel world champion Steve Torrence is back in the title hunt, powering to his second straight win at World Wide Technology Raceway on Sunday at the 11th annual NHRA Midwest Nationals.
Robert Hight (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also picked up wins at the 19th event in the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season and the third of six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
Torrence put together a run of 3.741s at 328.70mph in the final round in his Capco Contractors dragster, slipping past Josh Hart, who went 3.749s at 329.67mph. Torrence, who also knocked off Buddy Hull, Clay Millican and Doug Kalitta to reach the final round, picked up his second win this season and 53rd in his career, jumping three spots in the standings to move into second in the title chase. He trails Justin Ashley by just 14 points with three races remaining as the Texan seeks his fifth straight world title in Top Fuel.
Torrence also won for the fourth time in St. Louis, posting an excellent reaction time of 0.027s in the finals and hanging on for the victory.
“We’ve struggled all year, some of it self-inflicted, but this was a great weekend for us,” Torrence said. “We’re glad to be back in this Countdown to the Championship and it’s been a heck of a year. To come here and have success, it’s nothing short of a blessing. I tried to screw it up a couple times today and my guys saved me, and I was able to step up in the final round.
“We saw the main players go out early today and the door creaked open a little, and we were able to get our foot in it. But it’s tough and we’re doing the best we can and trying to remain focused on the main priority, which is trying to win a championship. This place has been unbelievable to us and we’re going to carry that confidence into Texas.”
Hart enjoyed an impressive weekend as well, defeating Scott Palmer, Mike Salinas, and Shawn Langdon to advance to his second final round this season and fourth in his career. He also moved to sixth in points.
In a thrilling Funny Car final round with major championship implications, points leader Hight took down defending world champ Ron Capps on a holeshot, as his run of 3.911s at 331.61mph in his Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS was enough to get past Capps’ quicker 3.908s at 330.47mph. It gives Hight, who was also the No. 1 qualifier, a 46-point lead over Capps at the halfway mark of the Countdown to the Championship and eight victories in what has been a tremendous season for the three-time world champ.
He advanced to the final round on the strength of wins against Tim Wilkerson and Matt Hagan, and then posted a reaction time of 0.041s to hold off Capps at the finish line and pick up his 61st career victory. It’s also the third victory at St. Louis for Hight, who already has two wins in the postseason.
“It doesn’t get any better than this. This was a 40-point swing in the finals, so it was a good job by my guys,” Hight said. “They keep digging every round and getting it done. You definitely can’t be racing defensively. You’ve got to be on offense out here, even if you’re the points leader and I knew I had to pull out a good reaction time in the final round.
“To say we’ve got eight wins, that makes me very proud, but here’s the hard truth: if I don’t have more than eight, I probably won’t win the championship. So we’ve got to stay focused and work hard, and this team is up for it. We don’t need to leave anything on the table.”
Capps reached his second straight final round – and an 80th career matchup with Hight – by defeating Daniel Wilkerson, Cruz Pedregon and John Force. Capps has seven final-round appearances this season and 138 in his career.
Enders now has the most wins at World Wide Technology Raceway of any driver in NHRA history, claiming her sixth St. Louis win – and fourth in a row – by knocking off Dallas Glenn in the finals in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Camaro. Glenn went red, while Enders put together a pass of 6.535s at 210.28mph, extending her points lead and winning for the eighth time in a magical 2022 season and also the 41st time in her career.
Like Hight, Enders now has wins at two of the first three playoff races, building a 120-point lead over Aaron Stanfield heading into the final stretch of the season. She reached the finals with victories against Chris McGaha, teammate Troy Coughlin Jr. and No. 1 qualifier Kyle Koretsky. By dispatching Glenn, Enders also moved a step closer to her fifth world championship.
“This track has definitely been great to us,” Enders said. “We’ve been coming here since we were 15 and we love St. Louis. We’ve had a ton of success here and we made up some ground today. I’m hopeful to keep the drive for five [world championships] alive. This has been a tremendous year for our team, and they’ve worked so hard. I’m so proud to have them.
“I super excited we’ve opened up a lead like that. I don’t want to let it slip through my fingers and I want to showcase what my guys give me every weekend, and we were able to do that today.”
Glenn beat Mike DePalma, Charlotte winner Aaron Stanfield and Matt Hartford to reach the finals for the third time this season and the eighth time in his young career.
Smith finished off a nearly-perfect weekend in Pro Stock Motorcycle, rolling to the win – and moving back into the points lead – on his Denso Auto Parts Buell with a run of 6.756s at 202.00mph against Jerry Savoie in the championship round. Over the course of the weekend, Smith set both ends of the track record, made a career-best run, qualified No. 1, picked up his fourth win of the season – and 36th victory in his career – and took over the points lead as the top of the standings changed hands for the sixth straight race in the category.
Smith was spectacular throughout the weekend and reached the final round with wins against Kelly Clontz and Joey Gladstone, who came into the race with the points lead. Smith took it back and then led wire-to-wire against Savoie to win for the fifth time in St. Louis, which is the most in the class.
“It was a big weekend for this whole team,” Smith said. “Leaving here No. 1 and [Angie Smith] No. 3 in points was huge for the team. This whole class is tough and we’re looking forward to going to Dallas. I had my opportunity second round in Reading against Joey and messed up, so it was good to make up for that here today. What a weekend here. I love the track and the fans here, and I just love the atmosphere.”
Savoie reached the final round for the second time this season and the 32nd time in his career, knocking off Ryan Oehler, Angelle Sampey and Eddie Krawiec. Smith’s points lead stands at 21 over Gladstone heading to Dallas as he seeks a sixth world championship.
The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series returns to action Oct. 13-16 with the Texas NHRA FallNationals at the Texas Motorplex in Dallas.