Mike Salinas and Bob Tasca III, both runner-up finishers in their respective classes at historic Bristol Dragway one year ago, were able to flip the script Sunday and score emotional victories at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.
Salinas claimed his second Top Fuel victory of the season in his Scrappers Racing dragster and officially declared himself a championship contender in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.
After powering past first round opponent Scott Palmer, the California racer marched through a murderer’s row of rivals – Antron Brown, top qualifier Doug Kalitta and defending champ Steve Torrence – to earn the coveted NHRA Wally trophy.
“This weekend we just focused on having fun,” Salinas said. “Alan [Johnson, crew chief] knows what he’s doing. It’s amazing to be in the seat with these guys.”
Salinas said defeating Brown, Kalitta and Torrence in consecutive order was a full day’s work. In the final round he ended Torrence’s amazing five-race winning streak. Salinas covered the distance in 3.836 seconds at 325.69 mph to edge Torrence’s dragster at the finish line, which trailed with a 3.892 at 287.60 in his white Capco Contractors dragster.
“I had never won against Antron or Steve,” Salinas said. “Doug Kalitta is a great opponent and his lights are amazing. Those three guys are going to run for the championship. I am learning how to get to that level and I will get there. You have to have some luck in this deal. I think today we had a little luck and we ran decent and you have Alan Johnson and his experience and that’s how we did it.”
Salinas moved to third in the points with the win and with highly decorated crew chief Johnson calling the shots, feels like he is one to watch the rest of the season.
“We are going to do one race at a time,” Salinas said. “Sometimes when you talk you get yourself in trouble. We let our talking happen on the track. [Steve] is the champ. You have to step back and look at how long it took him to get to where they are. They worked their butts off. Steve Torrence is why I came back to racing. I owe that family a lot. We are going to do this a lot more. None of us show up to lose. We are going to show our stuff on the track and this has the potential to be a great rivalry.”
In Funny Car, Tasca avenged his loss here last year to Ron Capps and advanced to the final where he denied NHRA icon John Force his 150th career victory. The Rhode Island driver took his fifth win of the season and first since Dallas in 2012 by outrunning Jim Campbell, Robert Hight and Capps in earlier rounds.
In the final, he defeated Force by powering his 11,000-horsepower machine to a final round performance of 4.008 seconds at 316.23 mph, while top qualifier Force trailed with a 4.155 at 287.05. Force, who was determined all weekend to grab his much sought-after milestone victory, and double the fun with it being Father’s Day, had problems getting his Chevy Camaro staged in the final.
“I knew it would be a slugfest against Force,” Tasca said. “I didn’t know what was going on up there. I thought maybe he was trying to run me out of nitro out there. I guess he had some problems putting it in forward and reverse. I love racing John. I said getting out of the car it’s one of the biggest career wins for me.”
Tasca, who ran a limited schedule from 2015-2017, posted a semifinal finish at Phoenix but felt like his team really turned a corner in recent races.
“Last year was a tough year,” Tasca said. “We started from scratch. We didn’t have the consistency. Then we started to catch our stride coming out of Richmond. To be able to deliver this win, and it’s only one, but trust me it’s a big win for this team. You have to take notice of how the car is running.”
Tasca said adding former John Force Racing crew chief Jon Schaffer to his braintrust has really made a difference.
“The only thing that’s the same in this race car is me,” Tasca said. “We flushed everything. Eric [Lane, crew chief] checked his ego at the door and he has worked well with Schaffer. Trust me, this isn’t going to be the last time you hear from this Ford.”
Tasca said finally getting a victory at Bristol Dragway, with all of the history here, is really satisfying.
“I remember walking into this place for the first time and saw a photo of my grandfather hanging in the tower and it’s such a beautiful facility,” Tasca said. “I’ve always wanted to win one here and I’m glad to get it done today.
“It’s a lot of fun. To see my guys work as hard as they’ve been working to put us in position and then close the deal. It’s really hard to win out here.”
Force said he was disappointed he didn’t finish off the day with his fifth Bristol win, but he is encouraged by the gains made by his team this weekend.
“No Father’s Day for me, didn’t get that win,” Force said. “I feel a lot better about my race car being competitive. We’ve moved up to No. 2 in the points, that’s some good news. I’ve got confidence, not just in my car, my car has always been good, (crew chiefs) Brian Corradi and Danny Hood and (car chief) Tim Fabrisi, but I have confidence in me. We had an issue up there and that happens, but I’ve had to make a lot of changes myself. I’ve found out a lot of stuff. Not just with the car. I’ve been going to doctors, got special glasses, working on eating habits, got to get off that sugar, it drops ya. I’ve said it before, I’m in the game. That win is coming.”
Other winners included Jose Gonzalez in Pro Mod, who defeated Bob Rahaim in the final round; Tii Tharpe scored his second straight win of the season and at Bristol in Top Fuel Harley by outrunning Bob Malloy; and Todd Hoerner took the victory in Mountain Motor Pro Stock exhibition by holding off Frank Gugliotta.