DENSO NHRA Nationals Completes the Western Swing

Sonoma Raceway is located in northern California’s wine country. The track with multiple name changes (almost one for every decade the facility has been open) is known for its classic road course and a historic stretch of drag racing pavement. Sonoma Raceway started life in 1968 as Sears Point Raceway but was sold to Los Angeles-based Filmways Corporation the following year.

Sears Point was featured in the 1970s Robert Redford film called Little Fauss and Big Halsy, a film about two Vietnam-area draft dodgers trying to earn a living as motorcycle racers. In the late seventies, Bob Bondurant moved his Performance Driving School to the track and Sears Point was included on the AMA Superbike series. A few years later it was re-named Golden State Raceway.

After the partnership who owned the track split up, Filmways resumed ownership and re-named the facility Sears Point. The National Hot Rod Association started hosting major events at the dragstrip in the late 1980s and NASCAR showed up after Riverside Raceway (the longtime host of stock car’s western road race) was closed.

Tech giant Infineon was next up and signed a ten-year naming deal with the circuit. At the end of their sponsorship, the new name of Sonoma Raceway was chosen rather than reverting to Sears Point. When open-wheeled Indy cars showed up at Sonoma, renovations were made to move a hairpin turn on the road course further down from the drag strip’s tower. The single-seat drivers began using a new variant of turns that included a straight-run along the drag strip’s famous pavement. Over the weekend Sonoma hosted the 35th annual DENSO Sonoma Nationals as part of the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series.

Justin Ashley Wins Top Fuel at DENSO Nationals

Top Fuel teams were ready to tackle the track at Sonoma Raceways for the twelfth of 21 events in the NHRA Camping World Drag Series for Sunday's final round of the Western Swing. With drivers jocking for positions for the Countdown to the Championship, Antron Brown earned his spot in the final elimination round  for the third time this season with victories at Sonoma over defending Top Fuel world champion Mike Salinas, defending Sonoma winner Brittany Force, and last week’s winner Steve Torrence. Wow!

In the other bracket, Justin Ashley defeated Doug Kalitta with a 3.70 ET, then sent Austin Prock packing with a 3.74 ET, and finally let up a little in the semifinal run with a 3.76 elapsed time to beat Josh Hart. Antron Brown had the holeshot but the Phillips Connect/Toyota dragster was so hooked up that it lifted the front wheels, which has become the team's calling card. And Ashley’s 3.778 ET at 328.78 mph moved him back to the Top Fuel points lead. With three races remaining before the Countdown to the NHRA Championship, Ashley also has the most Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge bonus points with fifteen.

J.R. Todd Claims First Funny Car Wally in Two Years

To get the ball rolling at Sonoma, J.R. Todd won the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge on Saturday against Blake Alexander and was looking to maintain the momentum. But Chad Green claimed a Funny Car win in the Mission Foods Challenge at the Winternationals and has been close to picking up his first Wally in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series. Green advanced to his first-career final round with wins over Cruz Pedregon, Paul Lee, and back-to-back defending world champ Ron Capps.

At the end of day, the driver of the DHL Toyota GR Supra Funny Car had snapped his 53-race winless streak with a win at the 35th annual DENSO Sonoma Nationals, the track where he had won Top Fuel in 2006 and Funny Car in 2017. With Green off the tree first, Todd powered to the finish with a 3.972 ET at 322.81 mph. It was his fourth win at Sonoma Raceway and moved the Kalitta Racing team driver into eighth place, just 219 points behind Matt Hagan with three races remaining before the Countdown to the Championship.

Herrera’s Cinderella Rookie Season Continues at Sonoma

To say Gaige Herrera has taken NHRA pro stock motorcycle by storm would be an understatement. The Vance & Hines Suzuki rider has won six nationals in his rookie season, became the only competitor in over a dozen years to SWEEP (yep he got an NHRA broom for that) the Western Swing by winning at Denver, Seattle and Sonoma. Plus, he has claimed several number one qualifiers, Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenges, and this weekend won the Pep Boys Pro Stock Motorcycle All-Star Shootout.

At the 35th annual DENSO NHRA Sonoma Nationals, Herrera earned his way to the final round of eliminations by defeating Ryan Oehler, Marc Ingwersen and Karen Stoffer. In the other bracket, the defending PSM world champion Matt Smith eliminated Lance Bonham, Steve Johnson and Eddie Krawiec enroute to a showdown with Herrera. After having a pretty good day tuning the Matt Smith Racing machines, the boss’s Suzuki failed to start and had to be pushed away from the tree. Herrera will try to keep the momentum going at the U.S. Nationals next month.

Artwork courtesy of NHRA


Menards NHRA Nationals

With the Western Swing over, nitro and pro stock teams head to Topeka, Kansas for the Menards NHRA Nationals presented by PetArmor at Heartland Motorsports Park on Aug 11-13. During Saturday’s qualifying, fans can enjoy the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge, where semifinalists from the previous race in the pro classes will compete in side-by-side races during for valuable Countdown to the Championship bonus points and cash prizes.


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