(L-R) Robert Hight runs a 3.904 at 331.53 and John Force runs a 4.845 at 163.77 in round 1 of Funny Car eliminations. (Ray Saint Germain/Bay City News)
The hills of Sonoma rumbled with the thunderous roar of car engines on Sunday as the Denso NHRA Sonoma Nationals took over the Sonoma Raceway.
The race Sunday followed elimination races on Friday and Saturday and decided champions in three NHRA pro categories, including Top Fuel, Funny Car, and Stock Motorcycle.
Number one ranked Gaige Herrera raced against six-time world champion Matt Smith for the Pro Stock Motorcycle championship. After Smith’s bike failed to start on the track, Herrera took his sixth season win, reaching the finish line in 6.775 seconds at 198 mph, becoming the first pro-stock motorcycle racer to sweep the Western Swing in the process.
Herrera, who races for the Vance & Hines Suzuki team, said he was happy with the win but would have preferred to race his opponent.
“You never want a win that way, if I had my way, I would have waited for it to be fixed,” said Herrera.
The Top Fuel championship came down to Justin Ashley and Antron Brown. The race ended in a photo finish, with Ashley crossing the finish line a thousandth of a second before his opponent. Ashley, with an elapsed time of 3.778 at 328 mph, was once again crowned champion, taking back the title that he lost a week ago in Seattle to Steve Torrence.
Ashley commended his race team for their work, which helped lead him to victory. “The competition is so difficult,” said Ashley. “It’s so hard, it really feels like four final rounds each and every time you get up there and the margin for error is very small.”
In the Funny Car Category, Chad Green faced J.R. Todd for the championship. Todd beat out Green completing the race in 3.972 seconds at 322 mph, earning his first win since March 2021.
Todd had a difficult beginning to the season, when he collided with John Force in April during a qualifying match, and later exploded during the finals, leaving the body of his vehicle in pieces on the track.
“It’s been a long road to get here,” said Todd. “We’re not out here to play games. We’re out here to win races.” Brittney Force, who last year broke three speed records in the Top Fuel division in her first victory at Sonoma, was eliminated after experiencing technical issues with her vehicle in round two of the matchups.
Racer Steve Torrence during a solo run blew a supercharger 100 feet from the starting line, causing the stands to shake with a booming explosion. Despite this, Torrence advanced to the semifinals, where he was eliminated by Brown.
In addition to the main event, attendees could take in demonstrations of electric vehicles, a Jr. Dragster competition and “Top the Cops”, a race which pits police officers against drag racers.
The NHRA season will continue the weekend of August 11 with at the Heartland Motorsports Park in Topeka Kansas. The NHRA will return to California for the In-N-Out Burger NHRA Finals from November 9-12.
Spencer Otte recently graduated from Cal Sate Fullerton, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism. At Fullerton, he was the news editor and editor-in-chief of The Daily Titan and covered the 2022 midterm elections, the 2021 Orange County Oil Spill and President Biden’s visit to Irvine. This summer, Spencer was selected to be an editing intern through the Dow Jones News Fund.