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Sellout crowd at Gateway sees defending Funny Car champ win with a fiery finish

In this photo provided by the NHRA, Robert Hight secures the category points lead to defeat Tim Wilkerson at and pick up his third victory for the year and 10th Countdown to the Championship win of his career Sunday at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison.
In this photo provided by the NHRA, Robert Hight secures the category points lead to defeat Tim Wilkerson at and pick up his third victory for the year and 10th Countdown to the Championship win of his career Sunday at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison. AP

Robert Hight’s Funny Car engine exploded after he crossed the finish line in a winning final-round pass in the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison Sunday.

The defending season champion secured the points lead with a 4.036-second run at 276.29 mph against Tim Wilkerson. Hight got out the car on his own and has taken to a hospital for evaluation.

He won for the third time this season and 44th overall.

Tanner Gray won in Pro Stock, and Matt Smith topped the Pro Stock Motorcycle field. Gray raced to his sixth victory of the season and 11th overall, beating Drew Skillman with a 6.567 at 211.06.

Smith topped LE Tonglet with a 6.877 at 198.44.

Steve Torrence piloted to the Top Fuel victory with his second consecutive win Sunday at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals. Coming off his victory to kick-off the Countdown to the Championship, Torrence remained hot and went 3.770-seconds at 323.66 mph in his Capco Contractors/Torrence Racing dragster to defeat Clay Millican’s 3.798 at 320.28 in the final round, earning his seventh victory of the season and 23rd of his career.

With the win, Torrence now has a 70-point lead over Millican.

“This is going to be a really hard-fought war,” Torrence stated. “I couldn’t have a better group of guys to be backing me up. I’m blessed and fortunate to be a part of that team right there and not drop the ball. I’m very confident going forward and this is all we could’ve asked for to start the Countdown.”

Torrence beat Bill Litton, Mike Salinas and Leah Pritchett to reach the final round. Millican defeated Shawn Reed, three-time world champion Antron Brown, and Pat Dakin.

Pro Stock’s Gray grabbed his sixth victory of the season and 11th of his career in his Valvoline/Gray Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro after going 6.567 at 211.06 in the final round to defeat Drew Skillman’s 11.409 at 78.68. Gray, who knocked off Chris McGaha, Erica Enders and Vincent Nobile to extend his points lead over the category.

“During qualifying we didn’t run as well as we thought we should have,” Gray said. “We made nice runs, but we never got aggressive enough. It was cool to see everyone come in with their head on straight and fight back to get a win. I felt like all of us did a really good job of just going round-by-round.”

Skillman was in his second consecutive final round and was seeking his first victory of the 2018 season. He didn’t get the victory but did climb to third in points after beating Kenny Delco, defending world champion Bo Butner, and No. 1 qualifier Jeg Coughlin Jr. on Sunday.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, M. Smith earned his second victory of 2018 and 20th of his career with a holeshot win of 6.877 at 198.44 to LE Tonglet’s 6.876 at 196.10. M. Smith took the points lead after his third win at the track on his Elite Motorsports DENSO Auto Parts EBR.

He picked up wins against Scotty Pollacheck, Joey Gladstone ,and No. 1 qualifier Chip Ellis en route to the finals.

“We hurt our motor on Friday night,” M. Smith stated. “Angie (Smith, wife) and I stayed up all night last night rebuilding it. The Harley’s got three bikes out here trying to whoop up on us but we’re going to try and do our best to stay focused and do our job. As long as we don’t have any part failures we will be fine.”

Tonglet’s path to his 27th career final round included victories against Jim Underdahl, Angie Smith and Jerry Savoie as he is currently fifth in the points standings.

The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series continues Oct. 4-7 with the third race in the Countdown to the Championship, the AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals at Texas Motorplex in Dallas.

NHRA and Gateway Motorsports Park officials announced a sellout for Saturday’s qualifying heats.

“This event has shown three years of impressive growth. It just goes to show that the St. Louis region loves NHRA and NHRA loves the St. Louis region,” said Chris Blair, executive vice president and general manager. “In this day and age of reviewing and critiquing live event attendance it’s great to see another win at Gateway.”

It was the ninth sold-out crowd on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Jackson wins Pro Mod series race

Stevie “Fast” Jackson raced to his second consecutive win during the E3 Spark plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service portion of the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals.

This weekend’s Pro Mod racing, presented by Real Pro Mod Association, is the ninth of 12 races this season. Jackson ran a 5.759-second pass at 250.88 mph in his 2017 Chevrolet Camaro to Chad Green who red lit on the start line.

This is the fourth career win for Jackson and second of the season.

“If you had asked me five races ago if we would win another race in my career I would’ve told you, ‘no,’” Jackson stated. “This car kicked my butt for a while. If you give Billy Stocklin (crew chief) and I enough swings at it though we can knock the candy out of the pinata.”

Jackson defeated Rickie Smith, Jim Whiteley, and Mike Janis to advance to the finals. He is third in points. The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series continues at the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals on Oct. 4-7 at the Texas Motorplex located in Dallas.

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