NHRA Champions Crowned in Las Vegas; Here’s Everything You Missed on Wild Final Day

Steve Torrence was being a bit silly when he said Sunday morning that the 2020 Camping World NHRA Drag Racing Series Top Fuel trophy was going to “a hillbilly pipeliner from East Texas.”

But he couldn’t have been more serious when he said the pursuit of his third consecutive championship has changed him as a person—in an admirable way.

A year ago, in the NHRA Finals at Pomona, Calif., Torrence declared that “I’m probably the most hated champion ever” because of his altercation with Cameron Ferré earlier that day. This time, at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway during the Dodge Nationals season wrap-up, he was humble and vulnerable.

“First and foremost, I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, because I fall short a lot and everybody sees it. I get it. It ain’t something I’m proud of,” Torrence said. He said he’s a better champion—“and it’s not my driving—it’s my outlook on everything else. I had a bad attitude in 2017 and we didn’t win the championship. Then 2018 was a storybook team. We’d go out and win everything. Last year, we won it by a few points.

“You grow as a person. You can be mature in business and you can be mature in your everyday life. But competition brings out a different side of you and you have to be able to harness that and those emotions. I’ve gotten a lot better handle on that than I’ve had in the past. I’ve dug myself a hole with a lot of people. You only get one chance to make a first impression and I screwed that up with a lot of folks. So you just go out and you put your best foot forward and try to change people’s perceptions that you’ve shown them a couple of times. That’s what I really worked on for the last couple of seasons: not so much wearing my heart on my sleeve and trying to control my emotions better in a competition situation.”

” You can be mature in business and you can be mature in your everyday life.”

Torrence clinched the championship before he ever made it to the starting line for the first round. In the fourth pairing of the day, newly named NHRA Rookie of the Year Justin Ashley set low elapsed time of the meet to defeat Doug Kalitta, Torrence’s closest pursuer. Torrence became just the third NHRA Top Fuel racer to earn three straight championships. Joe Amato (1990-92) and Tony Schumacher (2004-09) did it before him.

“I don’t get emotional much, not this way. But this is different,” Torrence said.

The moment he had waited for turned out to be bittersweet: “That was a little bit of a mixed emotion right there. I’m a Doug Kalitta fan. Doug Kalitta is the fiercest competitor out here, and those guys have fought hard so many years, so long. And I mean, you want to kick yourself in the butt for robbing that guy out of it. We got to go finish our business. We don’t want to just get by on the skin of our teeth—that’d be an insult to Kalitta. So we’re going to do the best we can.”

He lost in the final, his seventh in 11 races, to Antron Brown.

Final Top Fuel Standings


Matt Hagan accomplished three things when he eliminated Alexis De Joria in the semifinal round of Funny Car runoffs. He advanced to the final round for the fifth time this season and the right to race Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) colleague Ron Capps for the event trophy. Besides that, Hagan secured his third championship and guaranteed that DSR will win every one of the season’s 11 races. That Wally statue went to Hagan, as well.

Tommy Johnson Jr.’s semifinal loss to Capps ensured a Hagan championship for the third time in a decade. Jack Beckman, another DSR racer and the only other one of Hagan’s challengers, dropped out of contention in the first round with a loss to Paul Lee. Hagan’s previous titles came in 2011 and 2014.

Before the event started, Hagan had said, “We already know what to do and how to do it.” All that was left was execution. And he blazed past Cruz Pedregon, Paul Lee, and Alexis De Joria into the final, where he won against No. 1 qualifier Capps. That completed the season-long jinx for No. 1 qualifiers.

DSR Funny Car drivers have competed head-to-head in final rounds at seven events in 2020.

Hagan dedicated the achievement to brother Kyle, who passed away unexpectedly three years ago. He said, “I’ve been trying to do it in his honor for awhile—and it’s not like you can go and order it up. It’s a real special moment for me.”

As for the DSR sweep, he said, this title was extra-special because “these DSR cars are all going to the final, whether it’s me or Capps or Tommy or Jack (Beckman).”

To ensure a total Funny Car domination for DSR, Hagan said, he knew he had to reach the final round. And that, he said, “is a tall order to fill in Funny Car. It shows the caliber of the team I have.” He also said he has several crew members who never had been part of a championship season: “It was special to give them that.”

Hagan marveled that the NHRA pulled off an 11-race season that he said had everyone “on edge” throughout the past eight months. “It’s kind of wild that we’re here—starting the season and then stopping, and then not even knowing if we’d even have a season, or what it would even entail. It’s been a weird year,” he said. “Mentally, this is one of the more stressful championships. This one of the hardest ones. This is more draining than anything.”

Final Funny Car Standings


With her fourth Pro Stock championship and second in a row, Erica Enders passed drag-racing icon Shirley Muldowney and Pro Stock Motorcycle trailblazer and 43-time winner Angelle Sampey for the most titles among NHRA women.

“It’s a goal I set as a child, that I wanted to be the best race-car driver on the planet, not just female. To be one ahead of my idols means a lot to me, Enders said. “I don’t feel like I’m anywhere near done yet, but even if I were, this is huge. And I’m so happy.

The retiring Jeg Coughlin and Jason Line – who had entered this showdown event tied for second place behind Enders – closed their careers in first-round upset defeats on holeshots (when the slower driver wins with a quicker launch). Coughlin lost to rising star Aaron Stanfield, who had beaten him in the Houston final a week ago for his first pro victory. Line fell to another promising class newcomer, Cristian Cuadra.

“I had no expectation that it was going to unfold the way that it did, with the type of competitors that Jeg and Jason are,” Enders said. “They’re definitely legends. It was an honor to race alongside of them for the last 16 years of my career.”

Final Pro Stock Standings

In Pro Stock Motorcycle eliminations, Matt Smith knew he was a four-time Pro Stock Motorcycle champion as he lined up against the 2019 and six-time class king Andrew Hines in the second round. Smith’s wife, Angie Smith, had just eliminated one of his challengers: their teammate, Scotty Pollacheck. Then last challenger, Harley-Davidson rider Eddie Krawiec, had a poor reaction time and gave away a chance to claim his fifth championship. Smith not only swiped the crown from Hines but denied him the event trophy, as well.

The small, frugal independent team owner said he was proud he beat two of the three Harley-Davidson racers, Hines and Angelle Sampey: “That team’s got all the money in the world. They get three times maybe four times more money than everybody else out here, and we still beat them. That’s a privilege for us and for our team. It looks like we’re going to finish one, three and six in points the way it looks like. That’s a pretty good year for our team to be a small team like we are. We’re nowhere near the size they are but man Denso, Lucas Oil, Mark Stockseth, everybody help us, Greg Butcher Trucking. I couldn’t do it without them and it takes all of them to be able to let this little giant come and get to play against the big boys.”

Smith’s motor was unable to fire for his semifinal match, spoiling his chance to race wife Angie in the final. She won to keep the Las Vegas trophies in the family, defeating Steve Johnson. It was her second career victory and first since 2014, when she trumped her husband at Epping, N.H.

Afterward, she said, “You never know when you’re going to get back here. Never give up on your dreams.” Then to the champion she said, “Matt, I love you. Sometimes I’m a pain in the butt.”

Final Pro Stock Motorcycle Standings

What were you favorite moments of the NHRA season? Is Erica Enders now one of the sport’s all-time greats? Are yuou excited for the future? Join in the NHRA discussion in the comments section below.

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