HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Steve Torrence, J.R. Todd, Tanner Gray and Matt Smith were celebrated as the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series champions on Monday during the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series awards ceremony at the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland.
The championship drivers were honored for their season-long achievements and presented with checks and trophies for winning 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championship titles during the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s playoffs.
Torrence won the category crown after he clinched the championship during eliminaitons at the NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. In his championship season, Torrence raced to 11 victories including making NHRA history by sweeping the playoffs.
Todd raced to his first Funny Car championship Sunday during the opening round of eliminations Sunday at the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. He secured six victories during the season including winning the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. In the six-race playoffs Todd won three of them.
Pro Stock racer Tanner Gray became the youngest NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world champion. During his championship season Gray notched seven victories including securing his first career win at the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals win in Indianapolis. In the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship, Gray cemented his first crown with three wins and maintained the points lead throughout the entire playoffs.
Smith won his third championship after not qualifying at the season opening event for the two-wheeled category in Gainesville. The team hit their championship stride beginning at Brainerd with three consecutive No. 1 qualifying positions. In the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship Smith cemented his crown with three victories and took the points lead starting in Charlotte 2. He won the championship in dramatic fashion by defeating defending world champion Eddie Krawiec during the final round at the season finale.
Top Fuel pilot Bill Litton was named the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award and the $20,000 prize. The award recognizes the top NHRA rookie performer of the year. Litton competed in 14 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events during the 2018 season. He defeated Tony Schumacher, Brittany Force and Leah Pritchett to advance to the quarterfinals at Atlanta, Richmond, Sonoma and Pomona. Litton raced to his career best time of 3.901-seconds at the event in Atlanta and his career best speed of 318.17 mph at the race in Dallas. The other candidates in the rookie class were Kelly Clontz (Pro Stock Motorcycle), Steve Graham (Pro Stock), Kebin Kinsley (Top Fuel), Jim Maroney (Top Fuel), Ryan Oehler (Pro Stock Motorcycle), Mark Paquette (Pro Stock Motorcycle), Wally Stroupe (Pro Stock), Ron Tornow (Pro Stock Motorcycle), Terry Totten (Top Fuel), Richard Townsend (Funny Car) and Audrey Worm (Top Fuel).
“I am so blessed and thankful for this award,” Litton stated. “I’ve prayed for the opportunity to drive a Top Fuel dragster since I was eight years old and thought for a long time it was a longshot dream. The Worsham’s, and our team deserves the credit for putting me in this position. I am very grateful that two legends of the sport like Chuck and Del have the confidence in me to pilot their Top Fuel dragster.”
Chevrolet was honored during the evening as the 2018 NHRA Manufacturers Cup winner. The season-long points battle was captured on the strength of the Camaro Funny Cars driven by two-time Funny Car world champion Hight, 16-time category champion John Force and Courtney Force. The Pro Stock category was also represented by first-time world champion Gray, Greg Anderson, Bo Butner, Erica Enders, Drew Skillman, Jeg Coughlin Jr., Vincent Nobile, Chris McGaha and Jason Line. This is the 23rd time Chevrolet won the award and second consecutive year for the manufacturer.
“Competition in the NHRA is fierce,” said Mark Kent, Chevrolet’s director of motorsports competition. “At every NHRA event, drivers of Chevrolet vehicles in the Funny Car, Pro Stock, Super Stock and Stock classes compete for race wins and valuable manufacturer points. Chevrolet is very proud of their efforts and is truly honored to again receive the NHRA Manufacturer Cup.”
The NHRA also presented a special Lifetime Achievement Award to legendary driver, “Big
Daddy” Don Garlits, a pioneer in the sport of drag racing. Not only was Garlits the first drag racer to break through a myriad of speed barriers, he’s also known for his innovations in safety. Most notably, he perfected the rear-engine Top Fuel dragster design to create a safer driving experience and revolutionizing the class.
Drivers in 10 categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series also were recognizes as 2018 world champions: Joey Severance (Top Alcohol Dragster), Sean Bellemeur (Top Alcohol Funny Car), Frank Aragona Jr. (Competition Eliminator), Justin Lamb (Super Stock), Brian McClanahan (Stock), Steve Williams (Super Comp), Devin Isenhower (Super Gas), Paul Nero (Top Dragster), Ronnie Proctor (Top Sportsman) and Leah Pritchett (SAM Factory Stock).