Steve Torrence is one race away from putting the ultimate finishing touch on a nearly-perfect 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season. The eight-time Top Fuel winner this year holds a 20-point advantage against Brittany Force and the world title will be decided at this weekend’s Auto Club NHRA Finals at historic Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif.
With defending event winner Doug Kalitta sitting 84 points behind Torrence, a first-time Top Fuel world champion will almost assuredly be crowned at the final race of the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. The trio has combined to win four of the first five playoff races, with their intense battle to be culminated in a thrilling finish in Pomona. But Torrence won’t change an approach that has led to so much success in his 10,000-horsepower Capco Contractors dragster this season.
“To win a championship, we can do this and do that, but at the end of the day we need to go there and try to win the race,” Torrence said. “We don’t want to go there and be conservative. We don’t want to treat it any different than any other race. You can definitely make a lot more of it and put a lot of pressure on yourself. But we want to go there and do what we’ve been doing. We want to run well in qualifying, go rounds, and try to win the race, and go there and enjoy it.”
Kalitta (Top Fuel), Tommy Johnson (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock), and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the season-ending race that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including live finals coverage starting at 4:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Nov. 12. The final race of the season will have more on the line via the point-and-a-half system, meaning the winner earns 150 points and has the chance to earn up to 191 points at the event.
That creates a number of wild scenarios for the weekend, but all three remain focused on their own performance. Force has come on strong during the Countdown to the Championship, winning twice and advancing to the finals in Las Vegas in her Monster Energy dragster. After watching her legendary father, Funny Car icon John Force, win 16 world titles, Brittany Force is trying to win her first. It can be a nerve-wracking spot, but she has supreme confidence in her team.
“I don’t try to focus on the big picture and how many points you need,” said Force, who has six career wins. “Obviously, I hear things and how many rounds out we are, but my main focus is one round at a time. That’s the way I approach it. Some drivers feed off how many points they are behind and how far they are back, but for me, I do it one round at a time. It’s too much pressure, too much on my plate if I look at it another way. Then my focus is lost, it’s not in the right place, it’s not in the car, it’s a distraction. For me, less distraction is better when I’m in the car.”
Kalitta, who will make his 465th career Top Fuel start when he lines up in Pomona, momentarily grabbed the points lead by winning the playoff opener in Charlotte. He has been pushed back to third after falling to Force in consecutive races, but Kalitta, a 43-time event winner, isn’t dwelling on chasing that elusive first world championship. Instead, he wants to win the Auto Club Finals for a second straight year in his Mac Tools dragster and let everything else sort itself out.
“My Mac Tools team has worked hard all season,” Kalitta said. “We are going into Pomona and are going to work hard to get the win. The title is out of our control, but winning our second straight Auto Club Finals is definitely our plan.”
Winning his first world title would be an ideal culmination for Torrence, who has advanced to 11 final rounds in 2017. He has maintained the points lead for the bulk of the year in his incredible season, but Torrence knows he must be ready to perform on a huge stage this weekend.
“I feel confident we are up to the occasion,” said Torrence, who has 16 career wins. “It’s up to us to go and do the best we can. If everyone on our team goes out there and does their job, I feel confident that ultimately we should prevail. That’s been the case the whole season. When we go out and do our job, we come out on top. We just have to stay calm and stay focused.”
Funny Car points leader Robert Hight will try to hold off reigning world champ Ron Capps in a must-see duel. Hight currently has a 15-point advantage.
Anderson, who has 12 wins in Pomona and six at the finale, will try to claim a fifth Pro Stock world title. He leads Bo Butner by 40 points and reigning world champ Jason Line by 76 points.
Eddie Krawiec’s bid for a fourth Pro Stock Motorcycle championship is within grasp, currently leading LE Tonglet by 150 points.
The Auto Club NHRA Finals will also feature thrilling competition in the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series. After Nitro qualifying, stick around to see the spectacular Muy Caliente Racing jet dragsters sponsored by Lucas Oil/ Mav TV. Known for their exciting pre-run flame shows and after burner pops, jet cars are thrust driven vehicles propelled by jet engines.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 12:00 p.m. and 2:45 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 10, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Nov. 11, at 12:00 p.m. and 2:45 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 12.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 800-644-4444. Tickets also are available online at www.NHRA.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. All students can save 50 percent on general admission at the gate with a student ID. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate.