After two events of surprising results in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship, the cream rose to the top once again on Monday in Charlotte.
Steve Torrence, Robert Hight, and Andrew Hines each entered this year’s Countdown as the drivers to beat in their respective classes, and all three earned their first victories of the 2019 playoff at the rain-delayed NTK NHRA Carolina Nationals from zMAX Dragway. All three also count themselves as points leaders at the halfway point of the six-race chase, heading into the second half of back-to-back races at Texas Motorplex this coming weekend.
Torrence’s slow start to the Countdown at Maple Grove was a setback, but he rebounded with a final round appearance at Gateway to close to within two points of Doug Kalitta in the standings. Fittingly, the duo met in the final round this weekend, where it was Torrence who took the Wally for the ninth time this season. He now holds a 30-point advantage over Kalitta heading into his home event in Texas.
Hight didn’t just score a class-leading sixth Funny Car victory of 2019, he also earned his 500th career round victory along the way. His win enabled him to extend his points lead to 44 points over Maple Grove winner Jack Beckman, as Hight aims to defend last year’s victory at Texas. Teammate John Force and 2018 Charlotte winner Ron Capps are the only other drivers within 100 points of Hight.
Hines’ eighth victory of the Pro Stock Motorcycle season snapped a drought dating back to July’s NHRA Sonoma Nationals, as a pair of victories by Jerry Savoie and one by Karen Stoffer split his most recent two victories. Despite the slow start to the playoffs, Hines appears to have regained the form that enabled to win seven of this year’s 10 regular-season rounds after a winless 2018. His 57-point lead over Stoffer is the largest in any of the NHRA’s four premier divisions.
Finally, Deric Kramer returned to the top step of the podium in Pro Stock for the first time since June with a win over Matt Hartford. The victory enabled Kramer to climb to fifth in points, 88 behind championship leader Erica Enders. Seven different drivers have won the last seven Pro Stock finals, rendering top seed Bo Butner’s four wins in five races to start the season a distant memory.
The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season continues this weekend with the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex. Torrence and Hight are both defending event winners, while L.E. Tonglet will look to score his first Countdown win of 2019 as the defending Pro Stock Motorcycle winner.