S. TORRENCE, HAGAN, ENDERS AND M. SMITH CLINCH WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS AT DODGE NHRA FINALS
All four points leaders in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series finished the job on Sunday, as Steve Torrence, Matt Hagan, Erica Enders and Matt Smith claimed world championships during the 20th annual Dodge NHRA Finals presented by Pennzoil at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Torrence picked up his third straight championship in Top Fuel, Hagan claimed his third career world title in Funny Car, Pro Stock’s Enders won her fourth title and Smith earned his fourth championship in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Hagan and Enders both won the race as well. Antron Brown (Top Fuel) and Angie Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were also winners on Sunday at the final event of the 2020 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season.
Torrence clinched his championship almost immediately on Sunday when veteran Doug Kalitta lost in the opening round. But the Texan, who became just the third driver in NHRA Top Fuel history to win three straight world titles, turned in another impressive showing by advancing to his seventh final round in 10 races in 2020 in his 11,000-horsepower Capco Contractors dragster. He finished the year with four victories, continuing a dominating stretch that has included 24 wins — and now three championships — over the last three seasons.
“I’m proud of my team -– Richard Hogan, Bobby Lagana, all of those guys who give heart and blood to be out here and do this -– it’s unbelievable,” Torrence said. "Three championships in three years. The success that we had, we’re just a bunch of hillbilly pipeliners from east Texas and to be out here and do this is unreal. I thank my mom and dad who support me, and my wife who supports me. I don’t get emotional much, but this is different. Thanks to everybody for everything. It’s unreal.
"Doug Kalitta is the fiercest competitor out here and they have fought hard for so many years, I want to kick myself in the butt for robbing that guy, but it’s truly a blessing to be here. I’ve had a lot of highlights in my career and this is going to be right up there at the top.”
Brown beat Torrence in the final round, going 3.759-seconds at 315.34 mph in his Matco Tools dragster to pick up his first win in more than two years. Brown, who now has 51 career victories, beat Tony Schumacher, Clay Millican and Billy Torrence to reach the finals.
“It feels great and it was a whole team effort,” Brown said. “Everyone is working hard and we’re looking forward to next year. Everybody stuck with us and it’s a process. We just never gave up when the chips were down. We stayed persistent.”
Hagan clinched his third world title when Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. lost in the semifinals, and he finished the day in championship fashion, going 3.914 at 326.40 in his 11,000-horsepower Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye to beat Ron Capps in the final round. The Funny Car year was dominated by DSR drivers, as they won every race in 2020, but it was Hagan who came out on top.
He won for the third time in 2020, 36th time in his career and handed Don Schumacher Racing its 14th straight victory in the class. Hagan was splendid when NHRA returned to racing in July, winning the first event at Indy and holding the points lead over the final four races. He beat Cruz Pedregon, Paul Lee and Alexis DeJoria to reach the final round, capping off his year in an impressive way. Hagan and Brown’s victories also gave DSR its second straight double-up in the nitro categories and 67th overall.
“It’s been a dogfight the whole time,” Hagan said. “This race, this championship was for my brother I lost three years ago. It still hurts, but this kind of stuff, he’s riding with me. We had to battle it out and I can’t say enough about how proud I am of (crew chief) Dickie Venables and all my guys. They bust their butts each day and I try to drive the wheels off this thing.
“We’ve got a hell of a team with Don Schumacher Racing, Dodge SRT, Pennzoil, Mopar. Everybody that’s been a part of this, I can’t thank you enough. I love my team, I love my guys and I love everybody who allows us to do this. I also love our NHRA fans. They allow us to get this adrenaline going at 300 mph, and I just love it. I’m in awe of my guys right now.”
Enders made NHRA history on Sunday, as her fourth world championship gave her the most for any female in NHRA history. She clinched her second straight world title early in the day when Jason Line and Jeg Coughlin Jr. both lost in the first round. It set off an emotional celebration for Enders, but she wasn’t done, rolling to her fourth victory of the season and 29th in her career.
She beat Alex Laughlin, Troy Coughlin Jr. and No. 1 qualifier Greg Anderson to reach the final round, going 6.643 at 206.39 in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro to beat first-time finalist Kyle Koretsky. It gave Enders her seventh career win in Vegas and second straight at the facility, finishing off a challenging year in emphatic fashion.
“It's no secret that I've struggled this year, the last couple of years honestly," Enders said. "It's been an uphill battle. I speak so highly of these guys, and I mean it from the bottom of my heart. Between (crew chiefs) Rick Jones, Mark Ingersoll and Rickie Jones, (team owner) Richard Freeman has organized the most amazing group of people. All of these guys, they give their lives to this. I could not be more proud. I'm so blessed. I've never been in a situation like that where I've depended on other people to handle it for us. I love this life I get to live.”
M. Smith’s championship dream became reality when Eddie Krawiec fell in the second round. He also did his job on his Denso/Stockseth/MSR EBR, beating three-time champ Angelle Sampey in the opening round and defending champ Andrew Hines a round later. The four-time champion was a step ahead of the class for most of the season, qualifying in the No. 1 spot five times, winning twice and advancing to three final rounds. He also won the Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle, becoming just the fourth rider in Pro Stock Motorcycle history to win four championships.
“This was a long hard deal today,” M. Smith said. “That [Vance & Hines] group played their cards right and I had to race them in the first and second rounds. If you want to be the champ you have to beat the champ and I just beat the champ [Hines] to win this, so we are the champions. I can’t thank Denso and Mark Stockseth enough for what they do for me.”
A. Smith gave the husband and wife team another reason to smile on Sunday, picking up her second career victory with a run of 6.917 at 194.83 on her Denso EBR to beat Steve Johnson in the final round. She advanced to the championship round with wins against Katie Sullivan, Scotty Pollacheck and Hector Arana Jr.
“You never know when you’re going to get back here, and I’m so emotional,” A. Smith said. “I want to thank my team. They have built me up and have told me to never give up. This one’s for them.”
The 2021 NHRA season begins with the 52nd annual AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, March 12-14 at Gainesville Raceway.