Hight wins Funny Car at NHRA’s Sonoma Nationals
SONOMA — When the hot rods and bikes finish nose-to-nose at the finish line, nobody in the stands complains.
That’s what happened in the NHRA’s nitro-powered and top stock division finals at the Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday, where the combined distance between the winners and losers was a little more than four-hundredths of a second across all four events.
John Force Racing’s Robert Hight took the Funny Car crown, defeating Don Schumacher Racing’s Matt Hagan by .02 (two hundredths) of a second, finished his winning run at 322.50 mph.
Despite a slower reaction time, Hight beat him through the first 60 feet, slightly trailed at 330 feet (.001 seconds) and edged ahead at 660 feet: .017 seconds.
Hight, an Alturas native who considers Sonoma one of his home tracks, considers the victory one of his most important after a season filled with inconsistency.
“We’ve won a race and been in some finals, but no consistency,” Hight said. “This is our best weekend by far.”
For Hight, a three-time Funny Car champion, the win also came at a bad time for those ahead of him in the points.
Funny Car points leader heading into this weekend Bob Tasca III was eliminated in round one of eliminations by Paul Lee from Orange. Tasca spun the tires between 330 and 660 feet.
Drag racing legend John Force was second in the points and got eliminated in the first round by J.R. Todd.
“Everybody that we beat from the second round on was ahead of me in points,” Hight pointed out. “So this was a big day for this Auto Club team. That’s exactly what we got to keep doing.
“We want to go into this countdown (to the playoffs) No. 1. And I don’t see that as a problem if we race and do what we know how to do.”
Tasca saw his points lead reduced to just 21 points to Hagan, who jumped to second place in the standings. Hight catapulted from sixth to third, 52 points back, and Force dropped from second to fourth, 52 points back.
Hight earned his place in the final by edging out Ron Capps by .046 seconds in the semis. Both were neck-and-neck in their runs at 330 and 660 feet.
Three-time and defending Top Fuel world champion Steve Torrence won the final against Leah Pruett (formerly Pritchett), edging her by .011 (11 thousandths) of a second at 327.98 mph and 3.757 seconds.
The Top Fuel finalists matched times at 60 feet (.844) and 660 feet (3.021), but Torrence pulled ahead in the last 700 feet to take the Top Fuel crown.
Torrence claimed he messed up the start.
“I thought that they may be able to outrun us a little bit,” said Torrence of Pruett’s team. “They’ve had the better car all day. But that’s what you get for thinking because you kind of second guess your guys and go up there and change what you do and your routine and I screwed up.
“Started to push the gas, eased off and then the light came on. I was dead late. Fortunately, Leah, she didn’t crush it, either.”
Top Fuel No. 1 qualifier Brittany Force was eliminated by Pruett in the quarterfinals. Both drivers spun the tires in the last 700 feet, but Pruett was able to edge Force out. Force and Pruett were all but even at the 330-foot (.019 seconds) and 660-foot (.047 seconds) marks, but Pruett won by 0.401 seconds.
Pruett ran an uncontested solo pass in the semis. She's engaged to three-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion Tony Stewart.
In the Pro Stock Motorcycle division, Karen Stoffer edged out division legend Andrew Hines in the final, defeating Hines by .002 seconds. She did it despite running a slower speed than Hines: 197.36 mph to 200.98 mph. It’s her 10th career win.
In the Pro Stock division, Aaron Stanfield got his second career victory by beating Dallas Glenn in the final by .023 seconds (23 thousandths) at 209.56 mph. Stanfield upset Pro Stock great Greg Anderson in the semis.
Petaluman wins Super Comp
Well-known local drag racer Marko Perivolaris won the Super Comp division, his first win at Sonoma at a major national event.
Perivolaris raced his 2014 “TNT” to a finals win against Phil Nagel, using a quick reaction time to cross the line first despite running a slower time -8.896 seconds – to Nagel’s 8.863.
It’s been a tumultuous year for Perivolaris’ family. He lost his mother earlier this year. His sister, Lela, remains the crew chief on the car and his father owns the team.
Sadly, it hasn't been the only life-altering event for him this year. Perilovaris is close to the Seipel family. The family was named the grand marshal for this weekend’s race and are regarded as one of the pillars of drag racing in NorCal. Kyle Seipel, the raceway’s former drag racing manager, lost a three-year battle with cancer in June. Seipel was Perivolaris’ mentor.
“I can’t even begin to explain just how special this feels with everything that’s happened this year because those two people meant everything to me,” Perivolaris said.
Racing has kept the family together and active.
"We still do it as a family, and just thankful with everything that's happened that above all else this has been a great opportunity to continue to do things as a family and to stick together as a family," he said.
Tim Wilkerson blew up moments before the finish in his first elimination contest, but still won. Video from the NHRA showed Wilkerson’s car crossing the finish line engulfed in flames. Wilkerson stopped the car and was able to exit uninjured. He lost his quarterfinal matchup to Alexis DeJoria.
DeJoria lost to Hagan in the semis, losing by just .024 seconds.
Santa Rosa anthem
Santa Rosa’s Maryann Kafoa sang a booming rendition of the national anthem prior to the start of Sunday’s action.
A 13-year-old Herbert Slater Middle School and Santa Rosa Rosa School of Rock student, Kafoa was visiting a race track for the first time. It was also her inaugural performance in front of a large audience.
“It was amazing, but I was really nervous at first, though,” she said. “I had so much anxiety … and then I just let go of myself and I just sang. It kind of took off from there.”
Kafoa practiced in her garage at home in the lead-up to Sunday, along with her coach Jake Walden.