Welcome to the Circle K NHRA Winternationals event notebook, brought to you by the expert staff of NHRA's National Dragster magazine. We'll keep you updated throughout each day with news, notes, photos, and analysis as we kick off qualifying at the first race of the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season. Mello Yello qualifying begins at 11:45 a.m. Pacific.
Features | Results | Event Fact Sheet
QUALIFYING SESSIONS RECAPS
Pro Stock Q1 (12:10 p.m.): Jeg Coughlin Jr.
is the early leader at the Circle K NHRA Winternationals, driving his JEGS Camaro to a 6.577 to finish No. 1 after one session. Bo Butner matched Coughlin’s time, but Coughlin had a better speed, 210.21 to 210.11, giving him the provisional top spot. Greg Anderson, Erica Enders, and Jason Line round out the top five. Rookie Tanner Gray made a solid first pass, clocking 6.595 that has him eighth heading into the second session. [Complete results
Funny Car Q1 (12:55 p.m.): Matt Hagan
recorded the fifth-quickest time in NHRA history to pace the opening round of qualifying in Pomona. Hagan finished with a 3.840 that was nine-thousandths quicker than Courtney Force, who sits second after one session. Kalitta Motorsports teammates Alexis DeJoria and J.R. Todd are third and fourth, respectively, after a pair of 3.93s. [Complete results
Top Fuel Q1 (1:15 p.m.):
They say testing is one thing, racing another, but Doug Kalitta
matched his 3.69 best from Nitro Spring Training last weekend with a 3.697 to lead the Top Fuel field after the first session. Brittany Force, who ran a slew of 3.70s in testing, grabbed the No. 2 spot with a 3.706. Tony Schumahcer was third at 3.729 while rookie Troy Coughlin Jr. ran 3.730 on his first official lap for the fourth spot. Fourteen cars made the first session. [Complete results
Top Fuel Harley Q1: Tii Tharpe is the low qualifier after the first session with a run of 6.56 seconds, Dustin Werner of Maize, Kan., was involved in an incident when his motorcycle suffered an engine explosion at the start of his qualifying attempt. He was transported to Pomona Valley Hospital for further evaluation of a suspected right arm injury.
Weather delay (3:50 p.m.): Racing has been put on hold as light sprinkles begin to fall on Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. It's not too heavy and the NHRA Safety Safari presented by AAA is already working on drying the track.
Pro Stock Q2 (4:05 p.m.):
Defending event champion Greg Anderson
moved to the head of the class, wheeling his new-look Summit Camaro to a 6.557 to earn the provisional pole heading into tomorrow’s final two sessions. Anderson’s teammate, reigning world champion Jason Line, is second with a 6.563, followed by two-time world champ Erica Enders, who is just .004-second behind line. In all, there are 17 cars vying for one of the starting spots. Tom Huggins is the driver who enters Saturday not qualified. [Complete results
Weather delay (4:30 p.m.):
Midway through the second Funny Car session, racing has been put on hold due to rain. The next pair, Jack Beckman and Tommy Johnson Jr.
, have pulled back near the tower, and their crews have covered the cars, but no one is returning to the pits. The plan is still to complete the second session.
Weather update (5 p.m.):
Unfortunately, Mother Nature has won out. Due to persistent rain, the remainder of the second session has been cancelled. The final two sessions are slated for 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. Saturday. Funny Car was halted midway through the session. Matt Hagan's 3.840 from Q1 was not bettered, giving him the provisional No. 1 heading into tomorrow. Tim Wilkerson had the best run of the abbreviated Q2, clocking a career-best 3.857. [Funny Car Q2 results
You might not be able to tell sitting in the grandstands, but if you get a close-up look at Tony Schumacher’s Army dragster in the pits or staging lanes you’ll notice the detail: Badges that spotlight 29 branches of expertise in the Army. The 29 insignias unique to each branch of expertise are woven into the overall scheme, which was designed to spotlight the way each branch brings its expertise to the fabric of the U.S. Army.
“I think it’s very special, one of the neatest paint schemes and themes we’ve had in all my years with the Army team,” said Schumacher. “We know our team has one job each year and that is to go out and compete for the championship. Our car this year is showcasing 29 branches of expertise in the Army and their respective insignias incorporated into the paint scheme. It’s a wonderful design and it tells a great story in the way the insignias are woven into the overall design. It represents the framework made by the way those 29 branches come together to power the most capable force in the world. It’s teamwork in the ultimate sense – 29 teams that come together for one common bond, the common good, and that is the U.S. Army.”
Scott Palmer is geared up and ready for what will be his first full season of Top Fuel racing, thanks to the broadened involvement and support of Tommy Thompson and his companies, including primary backer Cat Spot Litter. Palmer ran 17 events last season, his first with Thompson, whom Palmer met at the Lucas Oil Drag Boat Series where they both have boats.
“Tommy’s offered us the chance to do everything we ever wanted to do,” said a grateful Palmer. “He’s giving me anything I want. He told me, ‘I’ll let you go as far as you want to go, as long as you do it your way.’ “
Palmer not only has a new car -- a Hadman-chassised car updated by Morgan Lucas Racing -- but also a boatload of new engine and clutch equipment that came to them through his new alliance with Steve Torrence Racing, which also allows oversight from Richard Hogan, Bobby Lagana Jr., and even Alan Johnson. Palmer initially had counted on missing the four NHRA events that conflict with the boat series, but Thompson also offered to have his own world championship-winning team run Palmer’s Scott Compton-driven Liquid Voodoo Top Fuel Hydro for him at those events, freeing him and crew chief/girlfriend Ashley Fye to concentrate on the NHRA series.
“We want to run respectably and be a small threat,” he said. “We’ll see how this year goes and then try to do more next year. We’re not trying to win the championship, but we would like to make the Countdown in the Top 10. We only ran 17 races last year and still finished 12th. It’ll be hard, but it’s a goal. We’re not trying to go out there and run low .70s; we’ll be happy to run between .79 and .85 at every race. If we do that we’ll win some rounds.”
Palmer made three runs in Nitro Spring Training and only ran to halftrack, but they told him what he wanted to see.
“We ran faster that we’ve ever run to the eighth-mile … twice,” he said with a grin. Palmer’s first full run at the Winternationals? Career bests of 3.853 and 321.50.
Veteran Steve Chrisman
is back in Top Fuel, driving the Worsham & Fink Racing entry with backing from CP Carrillo at this event and the NHRA Arizona Nationals and perhaps the Denso Spark Plugs Nationals in Las Vegas.
Chrisman drove the car at last year’s Phoenix and Las Vegas events – scoring an upset first-round victory over Steve Torrence at the latter – and the car was also driven by Bill Litton on the Western Swing last year.
Chrisman has cobbled together a crew that includes a few familiar faces, including longtime Del Worsham friend Chad Light, who is out of cockpit this season to assist the family construction business. “We’re calling it BOB Racing – Bottom of the Barrel,” joked Chrisman. “Just a bunch of old-timers; they’re so old we need to stack ‘em to get through.”
Bob Bode did a lot of work on his Arbee entry during the offseason, and he was very excited to start the season with a new body and new parts in the engine that he believes will make him more consistent and competitive. However, things got off to a bit of a rocky start when that new Dodge body was improperly placed on the chassis, causing it to come loose when the team lifted it after the burnout in the first qualifying session.
“It was new, and the body guys didn’t put it in the right slot,” said Bode. “It was nothing broke, nothing wrong, but when we left here, because we were so late, it didn’t go in the slot, and when they lifted it, it fell out. If I was the guy back there, I could have lifted it and put it back in, but these guys never saw the car before we got here. It’s our fault. We were victims of last minute-itis. My guys didn’t do anything wrong. They just didn’t know, and we looked stupid. But down the road all these pieces are going to make us a good car, which we need to if we’re going to stay out here.”
The Q1 snafu continued a string of challenges for Bode in getting this body, a ’14 Dodge purchased from Don Schumacher Racing and previously used by Matt Hagan. It began when Bode tried to go pick it up at the Schumacher shop.
“It was a snowy weekend,” said Bode. “We got as far as Lafayette. It was one in the morning, and traffic stops on 65. We didn’t move until 10:30 the next morning. We sat there for nine hours in the same spot. There was a hill going up that froze, and nobody could get up it or down it. Poor Terry Snyder at Schumacher waited for me until noon. I finally got there at noon, get the car, and then we drove straight home. I got home 24 hours after I left, never got out of that seat except to throw this [body] in the trailer, and then we had to mount it and change everything. I worked too hard not to run this thing. This thing has been a pain in my butt since we started, but it should help us.”
In addition to getting the new body, Bode worked on the fuel system and purchased a new six-disc clutch. With all the new parts and pieces on it, Bode quipped, “I spent way more money than I should have to go up there and look like I don’t know what I’m doing, so I was cranky afterwards.”
After a solid rookie campaign last season, during which he competed in 12 events, Jim Campbell is running a full-time schedule this year, teaming up with legend “Big Jim” Dunn, but the first foray down the dragstrip in the Dunn team flopper, which is carrying a special Mooneyes paint scheme in Pomona, was a little anticlimactic, and tire shake is to blame.
“I don’t know if we had it underpowered or what, but it just shook right off the line, and I shut it off,” said Campbell. “It even shook the burst panel off. We didn’t blow the burst panel; we just shook it off. It kind of blocked my vision for a little bit, and then it kind of set back out, but by then, I was coasting down.
“I think we’ve got the problem figured out. We should make a good pass in Q2 here and put down a nice number.”
Jeff Diehl is making his return to competition this weekend after being forced to sit out the second half of last year following a highway accident that injured both him and his wife, Leeza. Though happy to be back on the track, Diehl is not happy with the way his first day back went. Diehl had problems on both runs, recording a best of 4.564.
“To be honest with you, I’m pretty scared,” Diehl said with a smile after being asked about returning. “I haven’t been in the car for a little while, eight months, and the two runs have kind of been on me. The first one had the wheels in the air, and I kind of pointed the car crooked going forward. That [second] one, it was trucking, and it was starting to get it on, and I was steering it a little too much, and it was getting over by the centerline, and I just thought, ‘Quit.’ I didn’t want to do body work tonight, too. I’ll get it back. We don’t really get a chance to go out and test, so this is kind of our test. We don’t typically run the two runs on Friday, but now without the top 12 thing, every run counts, so you’re going to see us run more this year.”
Diehl was referencing the change in qualifying procedures for 2017, which eliminated the rule that only the top 12 times from the first day carried over to Saturday. Now, all runs carry over, and the top 16 is based on a driver’s quickest run across the four qualifying sessions.
Jeg Coughlin Jr.
entered the weekend with his sights set on winning not one but two Wallys, racing his Super Gas Corvette roadster in addition to his Pro Stock Camaro. Unfortunately for Coughlin, his shot at two Wallys evaporated before he ever even got behind the wheel of his Pro Stocker. Racing in the first pair of the first round of Super Gas, Coughlin came up on the losing end of a 9.92 to 9.90 match against Dennis Sato. The deciding factor in the race was the reaction times — Sato cut a perfect .000 light to the .048 of Coughlin.
Coughlin will now shift his focus entirely to Pro Stock, and so far, things are going well in his new Camaro. Coughlin opened with a 6.577 that was the best time of the first round of qualifying.
Tanner Gray entered Pomona with well over 30 runs under his belt, but even with all that on-track experience, Gray still felt some pressure ahead of his first official run as a Pro Stock racer.
“It took a lot of the weight off of my shoulders, just to get it staged up and get it down the track,” said Gray, who clocked a 6.59 on his first pass to finish in the quick eight. “We were pretty soft. We just wanted to make sure that we made it down. Being the first one down the track is tough. The track’s not as good as it would be if you were farther back, and it’s tough to lay down some numbers. We just wanted to make sure that we made it down and get in the show because with the rain coming, if you don’t make it down, you’re on the edge. We wanted to make sure that we made it down, which we did. We’ll go up for this next run and put some gear to it and see if we can make a run.
“I’m just excited to be out here. I can’t thank my family enough for letting me drive. We’re all excited, and I think we have a really good program, so I think it’s going to go well this year.”
On Tuesday night, the John Force Racing team made a special appearance at Mark Christopher Auto Center in nearby Ontario, where John, Brittany, and Courtney Force and Robert Hight signed autographs for visitors to the dealership, which has been a longtime supporter of NHRA drag racing with numerous car sponsorships.
EVENT FACT SHEET
2016 EVENT WINNERS:
Steve Torrence, Top Fuel; Ron Capps, Funny Car; Greg Anderson, Pro Stock
John Force, FC - 7; Bob Glidden, PS - 7; Greg Anderson, PS- 6; Don Garlits, TF- 5; Warren Johnson, PS - 5; Don Prudhomme, TF/FC - 5; Larry Dixon, TF- 4; Jason Line, PS-4.
INCOMING TRACK RECORDS:
Top Fuel - 3.680 sec. by J.R. Todd, Nov. ’16 and 332.34 mph by Shawn Langdon, Nov. ’15
Funny Car - 3.825 sec. by Jack Beckman, Nov. ’16 and 332.84 mph by Beckman, Nov. ’16
Pro Stock - 6.480 sec. by Erica Enders, Nov. ’14 and 213.84 mph by Drew Skillman, Nov. ’15
LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations at 8:15 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m.