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When Brittany Force and Bo Butner showed up to Auto Club Raceway in February for the Winternationals, neither racer had earned a victory at the historic track in Pomona. When racing wrapped up at the Auto Club NHRA Finals on Sunday, both racers had done more than earned their first career wins in Pomona: They were champions.
Force wrapped up her first Top Fuel championship by taking down Richie Crampton in the second round of action after Steve Torrence fell to Antron Brown one pair earlier. Her Monster Energy Dragster ripped off a 3.679 to take down Crampton in the second round, leaving no room for doubt. Torrence could do nothing but watch after losing to Brown just moments earlier.
Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also captured victories at the final race of the season.
The title for Force is a culmination of two years of working with tuner Alan Johnson, who works as a consultant on the Monster Energy machine. She defeated Terry Haddock, Crampton, Brown, and Shawn Langdon en route to the seventh Wally of her young career. Force and crew chief Brian Husen powered her dragster to four-straight passes in the 3.6s to earn the first Top Fuel championship in John Force Racing history.
“I can’t believe we are here, it seems like a dream,” Force said. “The reason we are here is because of that Monster team and all the support I have and all the sponsors. Everyone at JFR and that is the reason we are here. We struggled, we had our ups and downs, but we pulled it together when it mattered most. I give all of it up to my crew chiefs, Alan Johnson and Brian Husen, they are the ones that made this possible. They always had my back and they kept pushing me that is what my Monster team did, they never gave up on me, pushing and fighting and never gave up. I can’t believe we are here. I have to thank my dad, my family, they always had my back no matter what. This is a very proud moment. I can’t believe we are here. It is the support system you have around you and that is why we are here.”
It was a similarly stellar weekend for Butner, who began the 2017 campaign without a Pro Stock victory to his name. The racer, who enjoyed boundless success in the Pro Stock ranks, struggled to get the job done in the Mello Yello circuit. The final round was a rematch of the Las Vegas Spring race, where he lost to rookie Tanner Gray on a holeshot.
“Just never give up. I have a great crew; it’s amazing,” Butner said. “They don’t give up on me. But the KB team, what does that say about them? Honestly, I rent a car and a motor and they put me in a championship. It’s just unbelievable. Thank the Lord for everything; He shined on me.”
Gray got the jump on Butner at the starting line again, but the driver out of K.B. Racing made up for it down the strip to turn on the win light for the first time in five tries against the rookie. That kept Greg Anderson from earning his first title since 2010. Butner entered the weekend 40 points behind his teammate, but managed to slowly make up ground. He beat Anderson in the semifinals, setting up his final-round matchup against Gray.
Tommy Johnson Jr.
It’s Johnson’s first victory since the Vegas Spring event. He had runnered up in his previous four final rounds and dropped precipitously in the points during the Countdown. Switching to a six-disc clutch prior to this race seems to have paid dividends for the driver of the Make-A-Wish Funny Car, who defended the win he had at this event a season ago.
“It has been a very emotional year, we’ve had a tough year with the loss of Terry Chandler,” Johnson Jr. said. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her. She gave me the opportunity to drive after sitting out for five years. I was determined to get this win for Terry to close out the season. Just a great day. It wasn’t an easy win. The guys did a great job.”
Johnson defeated Bo Bode, Alexis DeJoria, Jack Beckman, and champion Robert Hight to capture his victory. He wraps up his season in eighth place after beginning the Countdown to the Championship in fifth.
Andrew Hines nearly went a full season without a victory, but managed to take down teammate, and 2017 champion, Eddie Krawiec in the final round. His 6.856-second pass earned Hines his first win since he took home the 2016 U.S. Nationals crown. Hines reached the final with wins over Ryan Oehler, Joey Gladstone, and LE Tonglet.
The win over Tonglet allowed him to move into second place. He moved up four spots during the Countdown to the Championship after both Harley-Davidson riders struggled early in the season upon switching to their new Street Rods. Those problems seem to be a thing of the past.
“It was a long season for my side of the team, but we found a way to get better throughout the season to get back to the level we expect ourselves to perform at,” Hines said. “There were plenty of long hours from the Vance & Hines team this year, and it’s really special to have a team of guys like I do that make sure we’re heading down the right path as we continue to push forward going into next year.”