3X defending World Champ Steve Torrence continues absolute NHRA Top Fuel class dominantion…

Steve Torrence kept his hopes alive to sweep the NHRA’s famed three-race Western Swing on when he powered to the Top Fuel win at the 33rd annual NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway.

Robert Hight (Funny Car), Aaron Stanfield (Pro Stock) and Karen Stoffer (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also won in their respective categories at the ninth race of the 2021 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season and the second of the famed three-race NHRA Western Swing.

Torrence, the points leader and three-time defending world champ, went 3.757-seconds at 327.98 mph in his 11,000-horsepower Capco Contractors dragster to squeak past Leah Pruett in the final round by just .002. It gives Torrence his third straight win, and second in a row during the Western Swing and he’ll head to Pomona next weekend to try to become the eighth driver in NHRA history to sweep the Western Swing and the first since 2009. 

Steve Torrence rolled to his 3rd straight TF win at Sonoma Raceway.

To advance to the final, Torrence had to get past Cameron Ferre, Doug Kalitta and Antron Brown. He then narrowly beat Pruett in the final round after she went 3.768 at 323.04 in what was a thrilling side-by-side race to claim his sixth win this season and 46th in his career. 

“I went up there and was a little antsy on the Tree and just got away with it,” Torrence said. “I did everything possible to screw that final round up. These Capco boys are unbelievable and I’m just the fortunate guy who is blessed to drive it. They work hard and just love their jobs. It’s so much fun racing here, and we’ve still got our hopes alive to go sweep the Swing and we got it done today.”

After struggling for most of the 2021 season, Pruett enjoyed a breakout weekend, advancing to her 17th career final round and first this year. She knocked off Justin Ashley and No. 1 qualifier Brittany Force to meet up with Torrence.

Female star drivers Brittany Force and Leah Pruett both had strong events. Brittany (top) qualified #1 with low ET of the event (3.694 secs) and Leah went to the Top Fuel Championship round.

Hight’s dominance at Sonoma Raceway continued on Sunday, as he won at the fan-favorite facility for a third straight time, delivering a run of 3.971 at 322.50 in his 11,000-horsepower Auto Club Chevrolet Camaro SS to beat defending world champ Matt Hagan in the final round. The win furthered Hight’s incredible run at Sonoma, gave him two victories this season and 53 in his career, and ended Hagan’s chances to sweep the Western Swing. Hagan was quicker off the starting line, but Hight, who beat Steven Densham, J.R. Todd and No. 1 qualifier Ron Capps to reach the final round, chased him down at the finish line, winning by a mere 15 inches.

Robert Hight won the fuel FC title for the 3rd straight season at Sonoma Raceway.

“I just had a lot of confidence in my team,” Hight said. “I just needed to have some confidence in myself. It’s pretty tough out here in Funny Car and you have to be on your game. I think we learned some things this weekend and you’ve got to rise to the occasion. When I first started racing, I would come to Sonoma and I couldn’t do anything. The last three, we’ve dominated and it’s been a lot of fun. It’s been an unbelievable weekend and we’re headed to Auto Club Raceway now.”

Ron Capps qualified #1 and set low ET at 3.897 secs in the DSR Napa Dodge Hellcat

Hagan reached his second straight final and 68th in his career thanks to round wins against Jeff Diehl, Blake Alexander and Alexis DeJoria.

Stanfield won a thrilling duel of young standouts in the Pro Stock final round, slipping past rookie Dallas Glenn with a run of 6.557 at 209.56 in his Janac Brothers Chevrolet Camaro. The close win gave Stanfield his second victory in the past three Pro Stock races and three in his career. To reach the final round, Stanfield raced past Chris McGaha, Matt Hartford, and No. 1 qualifier and points leader Greg Anderson to reach the final round. In the championship round, Glenn posted a .016 reaction time to Stanfield’s .020, but the Elite Motorsports driver had enough power to track him down.

Superstar in the making Pro Stock driver Aaron Stanfield was the winner!

“Every run is really important and the guys did a great job with the hot rod today,” Stanfield said. “I felt like I was driving halfway decent and they were giving me a great racecar, and everything always has to come together to win in this class. Today, it came together and I have to thank everyone at Elite. All the guys that work so hard and the people who support me, they let me come out here and do what I love. It was a good day. It was a tough lineup to go through and my guys did a great job.”

Glenn advanced to his third final round to continue his stellar rookie season in the class, knocking off Val Smeland, KB Racing teammate Kyle Koretsky and Troy Coughlin Jr.

Stoffer capped off a resurgent weekend in Pro Stock Motorcycle, winning for the first time since 2019 by taking out Andrew Hines in the final round with a run of 6.798 at 197.36 on her Ray Skillman/Big St. Charles Suzuki. It also marked Stoffer’s 10th career win, as she was able to hold off a hard-charging Hines at the finish line. Stoffer, who impressed on Saturday and qualified No. 2, beat Scott Bottorff, Joey Gladstone and her White Alligator Racing (WAR) teammate Jerry Savoie to advance to the final round, and finished the job at a track that holds a lot of memories for the veteran.

Karen Stoffer won her 10th career title in Pro Stock Motorcycle racing.

“Winning in Sonoma is definitely on my bucket list,” Stoffer said. “I kind of call it my home race because I raced Division 7 so long and I was a Division 7 champion. Coming here to Sonoma, it’s been phenomenal. This is definitely a moment I will always remember. This WAR team, they gave me a good bike and I said earlier we could go toe-to-toe with everyone. It was a really good race with Andrew, but our bike is phenomenal and it’s an honor to ride it.”

Hines, who went 6.800 at 200.98 against Stoffer, advanced to his 99th career final round and first in 2021 with victories against Ryan Oehler, points leader and defending world champ Matt Smith and Cory Reed.

The Lucas Oil Lowdown

Veteran Competition eliminator class racer Ralph Van Paepeham gathered in his first career NHRA National event win at Sonoma. Van Paepeham wheeled his Idaho-based A/EA to the title when his scheduled opponent Tony Mandella broke and could not make the call. Ralph’s win came after going 0-5 in previous NHRA Nationals final round appearances.

An overdue first career win for Ralph Van Paepeham highlighted Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series racing at Sonoma.

The Super Stock and Stock titles went to Mike Loge’s ’72 Barracuda SS/LA car – his 9th career win and to lady driver Shelby Williams who wheeled her D/SA Camaro to her first win.

Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series index racing included wins by Marko Perivolaris (Super Comp 8.90) and Kevin Griffiths (Super Gas 9.90)

The event’s Top Sportsman and Top Dragster titles (presented by Vortech Superchargers) saw wins go to Dan Borg’s Chevy Monte Carlo (T/S) and John Richardson’s Dragster.

The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series closes out its three-race Western Swing with next weekend’s (pandemic-delayed from February) Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

Posted with files by NHRA Communications and Bruce Biegler
Photos Courtesy of NHRA and Auto Imagery