Drag racing fans are a passionate group. In fact, they are so intense that over the last month they cast over 1.1 million votes to ensure their drivers qualified well and won races in the inaugural Virtual Reality Hot Rod Association presented by ARP. The events were also staged at legendary facilities no longer in operation, with one in a fictional indoor drag strip just to set the total fantasy setting.
On Tuesday, the fan-vote series, which plans to return in December 2020 for a second season, crowned its inaugural champions.
Terry McMillen (AllStar Top Fuel), Tim Wilkerson (FTI Funny Car), Kyle Koretsky (Jegs Pro Stock), Matt Smith (Strutmasters Pro Stock Bike) and Rickie Smith (Aeromotive Pro Modified) all secured titles.
For McMillen, he opened the season with a win Orange County back in March, added a runner-up at the event in Spartanburg, but fell behind to Clay Millican in a semi-final loss at the Englishtown. When Millican fell early at the final event in Long Beach, it opened the door for McMillen.
“It’s awesome,” McMillen said. “That’s all I can say. It’s just truly awesome. First off, be the inaugural. Second of all, to just say that I got a world champion of something. That’s pretty cool, and this is a big deal here because it took a lot of voting from fans and everybody.
“I’ll tell you, this virus has just really messed things up for everybody right now. Hopefully, everybody’s home and staying healthy. Hopefully, the governments around us will allow us to start leaving our compounds and go to the grocery store or go do something other than just looking at four walls.”
Wilkerson led the Funny Car chase from start to finish but didn’t breeze to the title by any means. He scored three wins and a runner-up in the series, and while this should have created a clear cut path to the title, it was Alexis DeJoria who kept pace with the Levi, Ray & Shoup-sponsored driver.
Wilkerson clinched his title at The Final Showdown by stopping John Force in a heated battle which went down to the last 10 minutes of voting.
“I feel proud. That’s cool,” Wilkerson said. “It’s pretty exciting. That the fans think enough of a small team to keep us on the top of their thoughts, I mean that’s cool.”
Ironically, Kyle Koretsky won his first race and clinched a championship before he had even made a Pro Stock run in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.
Drivers who had entered the first three events of the 2020 NHRA season were eligible to compete in the inaugural VRHRA season.
The son of former Pro Stock racer Kenny Koretsky was thrilled with the opportunity to participate.
“I think it’s great that we have a fan base already,” Koretsky said. “Coming into the sport, not really having any kind of fans and within the first race and all the Nitro Fish support is huge. And I think it’s just something to look forward to. It keeps our spirits up, and now we got to kind of go out there and really push forward on the track here, hopefully in June.”
It was a late-season charge which netted Matt Smith the Pro Stock Motorcycle crown. The season opened with Angelle Sampey and Karen Stoffer looking to be the early contenders, but then Steve Johnson entered the mix. Early exits for two of the three and Sampey’s semi-final loss to Kelly Klontz handed the title to Matt.
“That’s pretty neat, it’s good to know that we’ve got a bunch of fans out there,” Matt said. “I think a lot of people are really tired of the dominance of the Harley Davidsons and tired of the BS that goes along with that with NHRA with them. And I always step up and speak my mind about stuff, and I think I have a lot of fans that like that, so I’m just proud to represent them and proud to do the best I can for them.”
Like son, like father when it comes to championships. Rickie Smith won early and often, scoring three wins in the first four events, along with two No. 1 qualifying efforts.
“Having any kind of championship you win anymore, it’s pretty tough,” Rickie said. “Just to be able to pull anything off right now, it’s just a good honor. And I’d like to say, there was a lot of people watching this go on, and I had people calling me saying, “Man,” you know what I mean?”
“There’s a lot of people who watched this deal, I couldn’t believe it, here lately. But I guess I’m just glad I was going to be the first internet Pro Mod Champion.”