Torrence, Wilkerson, Herrera Claim Seattle NHRA Trophies

Herrera, Torrence, Wilkerson win in Seattle - NHRA photo
Herrera, Torrence, Wilkerson win in Seattle – NHRA photo

Doug Kalitta remains stuck on 49 wins; Toyota earned its 200th NHRA national event victory, Kalitta Motorsports still hasn’t won a race since 2021 and Steve Torrence is leading the Top Fuel points standings. Oh, and Gaige Herrera is the only person eligible to sweep the Western Swing. This is the first time Pro Stock Motorcycle has taken part in all three Western Swing races at Denver, Seattle and Sonoma; Herrera has already won two of those races and is in the catbird seat for the third!

Those are the prime take-aways from this year’s 34th Flav-R-Pac Northwest NHRA Nationals at Seattle Raceways. Steve Torrence regained the points lead in Top Fuel by earning his first blue winner’s cap of the season and placing former leader Justin Ashley in second, albeit by just four points. Ashley was gone after the second round of eliminations while Torrence won the final Camping World Drag Racing Series pass of the day to defeat Doug Kalitta, appearing in his second consecutive final round – and stuck at 49 wins!

In earning this victory, Torrence was the one to give Toyota its 200th NHRA national event victory on the same day the manufacturer scored its 600th NASCAR Cup Series victory. The NHRA milestone took two weekends to transpire, as Toyota was shut out of the final and 43rd Mile-High Nationals Winners Circle last weekend. Sunday’s final round was going to be a Toyota victory as both Torrence and Kalitta are part of the Toyota NHRA family.

Steve Torrence is proud to give Toyota its 200th NHRA national event win – photo courtesy Toyota

This win, coupled with Torrence’s double-up victory in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Top Fuel Challenge, was Torrence’s first since St. Louis last fall during NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship playoffs. “It’s a great feeling, kind of a ‘monkey-off-your-back’ sense of accomplishment feeling,” Torrence said of his win for his Capco Contractors team and for Toyota. “I think you can get a little complacent and winning is a norm, and it’s really not and never should be. The performance today – I’ll tell you, two rounds were stellar and two rounds were not stellar – you’ve got to be confident. Excited to get the 200th win for Toyota here today. We’re a family-owned and family-run team and we’re really close to the vest and careful with whom we partner, so we’re proud of the people that support us.”

In picking up this win, Torrence is four points ahead of Ashley, leaving Tony Stewart Racing’s Leah Pruett a gaping 136 points behind in third, with reigning champ Brittany Force a point behind Pruett with her John Force Racing teammate Austin Prock in fifth, -167 points. Kalitta, who was out of the top 10 for much of the season, is now sixth, followed by Antron Brown, No. 1 Seattle qualifier Mike Salinas, Josh Hart and Clay Millican completing the top 10. Shawn Langdon and Tony Schumacher are still trying to race their ways into that heady territory.

Winning in Chicago was only the beginning for Tim Wilkerson and his Maynard Wilkerson Racing Funny Car team. Now a four-time victor at Seattle Raceways, the Illinois driver/crew chief took his SCAG-sponsored Ford Mustang to the Winner’s Circle at this track after earning three straight in 2009-2011 but lying fallow ever since. “What an exciting day,” Wilkerson exulted following this event. In the first Maynard Family Racing event since joining the NHRA Camping World tour last summer, Tony Schumacher won Top Fuel in Seattle; Wilkerson kept the Northwest Nationals streak alive with his victory on Sunday.

Veteran Tim Wilkerson won Funny Car at Seattle for the fourth time – Anne Proffit photo

Wilkerson realized he got lucky when both points leader Matt Hagan and reigning Funny Car champ fell to him in the first two rounds, He had a good match against Jim Head Racing’s Blake Alexander in similar machinery and then met J.R. Todd, part of an accelerating Kalitta Motorsports squad that seems to have shaken off its season-starting doldrums. “Tony won here last year and we’re so happy we could bring home another Seattle win for Joe Maynard and the JCM team,” Wilkerson said. “We came here with all the intentions of doing what we normally do: make good runs and hope for the best. I’m really proud of my guys and proud of my association with Joe and our team.”

While Hagan still leads the Funny Car standings, his Tony Stewart Racing Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat is only 17 points ahead of Capps’ Toyota GR Supra, while Alexis DeJoria and her DC Motorsports Toyota GR Supra retains third despite exiting to Chad Green’s Mustang in the first round. Also a first-round departure in his John Force Racing Chevrolet Camaro SS, Robert Hight is fourth, followed by Green, Wilkerson and Bob Tasca III in their Ford Mustangs, 16-time champ and Seattle No. 1 qualifier John Force’s Camaro SS, J.R. Todd’s GR Supra and Cruz Pedregon (Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat), who defeated Hight in the first round. Capps was the winner of Saturday’s Funny Car Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge, gathering money and points that will be added to his total once the Countdown begins at Reading in September.

Saturday’s Mission win for Gaige Herrera gave the first-year rider of Vance & Hines’ Suzuki Hayabusa3 motorcycle his third such victory. Herrera also earned the No. 1 position on Saturday and followed that with victory on Sunday. Herrera had been looking almost human the past few races but feels he’s “kind of back in the groove” with his three accomplishments this weekend. To reach the finals, Herrera had an easy time against the Buell of Lance Bonham after that rider fouled at the start, running unopposed in the quarters, picking off a strong Hector Arana Jr.’s Buell in the semifinals and defeating teammate Eddie Krawiec in the final round.

Gaige Herrera is back to his winning ways – Suzuki photo

With six-time Pro Stock Motorcycle champ Andrew Hines as crew chief, Herrera really has an unfair advantage and one he’s happy to take. Qualifying No. 1 for the sixth time in 2023, the La Mirada, CA native, currently living in DeMotte IN, now has a 266-point advantage on Arana Jr., while Krawiec vaulted to third, leaving six-time champ Matt Smith fourth on his Suzuki and wife Angie (whom Matt defeated in second round) fifth. Steve Johnson (gone after the first round) and his Suzuki are sixth, followed by an improving Chase Van Sant and his WAR Suzuki, Jianna Evaristo’s Suzuki, Marc Ingwersen’s Buell and a very excited Kelly Clontz with her Suzuki, rounding out the top 10 (-534) after going to the quarterfinals on Sunday.

All three classes: Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock Motorcycle will be in action this weekend when the Camping World tour executes its 12th race of the 21-contest campaign in Sonoma, CA.The big questions for that race will be easy to understand: can Kalitta Motorsports win in the Wine Country, will Gaige Herrera be able to sweep the Western Swing, will some of the drivers and riders who have come oh-so-close earn the wins they’ve been aching for as the series hurtles towards Indy and the Countdown? Only three races remain to cement the top seeds and, no doubt, everyone has that goal on their minds.

By Anne Proffit

About Anne Proffit 1269 Articles
Anne Proffit traces her love of racing - in particular drag racing - to her childhood days in Philadelphia, where Atco Dragway, Englishtown and Maple Grove Raceway were destinations just made for her. As a diversion, she was the first editor of IMSA’s Arrow newsletter, and now writes about and photographs sports cars, Indy cars, Formula 1, MotoGP, NASCAR, Formula Drift, Red Bull Global Rallycross - in addition to her first love of NHRA drag racing. A specialty is a particular admiration for the people that build and tune drag racing engines.

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