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Auto Club NHRA Finals Friday Notebook

Leah Pritchett broke the event track record with a sizzling 3.649 to lead Top Fuel qualifying Friday at the Auto Club NHRA Finals. Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock), and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also lead their respective fields at the season finale.
09 Nov 2018
NHRA National Dragster staff
Race coverage
Pomona

Preview | Features | Results | Photos

QUALIFYING ROUND RECAPS

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE (1:08 p.m.): Matt Smith ran the third-quickest speed of all time (200.65 mph), booking his entry into the Denso Spark Plugs 200 mph Club. Perhaps more importantly, it tightened his grip on the Pro Stock Motorcycle lead by two points because he ran the quickest time of the first session and Eddie Krawiec ran the third-quickest. Hector Arana Jr. also made a solid pass, qualifying the Lucas Oil TV EBR in the No. 2 position. That drops Arana back a point – he now trails Smith by 63 points with three qualifying sessions still to go.

PRO STOCK (1:40 p.m.): Jeg Coughlin Jr. did exactly what he needed to do in the first round of qualifying. The yellow and black Camaro soared to the top of the qualifying sheet, picking up four bonus points and moving within 136 points of Tanner Gray in the process. Yes, there’s still a lot of ground to make up, but that’s literally the quickest Coughlin can charge up the field. That pass makes for a great baseline for the Elite Performance team – including teammate Erica Enders, who also qualified in the top four. Gray snuck into the top half of the field but will want to improve if he wants to leave NHRA Drag Racing with a win. 

FUNNY CAR Q1 (2:55 p.m.): Neither of the points leaders, J.R. Todd nor Robert Hight, earned bonus points as the majority of cars struggled, with only four representative runs being accomplished. Tommy Johnson Jr. (3.960) and Courtney Force (3.965) were two of the exceptions on a side-by-side run. Shawn Langdon (4.018) and Jim Campbell (4.029) also earned bonus points. Terry Haddock posted a solid 4.25 but suffered a nasty fire that will likely put him out of action for the rest of the weekend. He was not injured.

TOP FUEL (3:25 p.m.): Don Schumacher Racing dominated the opening session for the fuel dragsters, sweeping the top three spots. Leah Pritchett led the way with a 3.774, which was almost a half-tenth ahead of Antron Brown’s 3.791. Tony Schumacher also got into the 3.70s in his last event with U.S. Army livery, marching to a 3.792.  Billy Torrence has the best non-DSR number with a 3.801 for the final bonus point. Torrence’s son, newly crowned world champ Steve, smoked the tires on his first run in a special Mello Yello-edition Capco dragster.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE Q2 (4:08 p.m.): Matt Smith kept the pressure on his title challengers by earning another four bonus points with a 6.799-second pass. LE Tonglet got back into the picture with a 6.828 – that scored him three points, meaning he only dropped one point in this session. His boss, Jerry Savoie, also made a great run as the whole pack moved up in the final session of Friday. Eddie Krawiec will enter Saturday qualified fifth on the back of a 6.864 with a 197.77 mph run to back it up. That’s one of several big-speed runs given by the two-wheel class to kick off the final race of the season. 

PRO STOCK (4:29 p.m.): Jeg Coughlin Jr. picked up four bonus points thanks to a 6.521-second pass in his quest to catch up with current Pro Stock leader Tanner Gray. He got some help from teammate Erica Enders, who ran a 6.53 to bump Gray off his perch as the No. 1 qualifier and secure a couple points for herself. Jason Line also made a stellar run (6.531) in a return to form for the blue Summit Chevy. Gray’s 6.537 kept Coughlin from gaining four points on the teenager – his lead after Saturday is 134 points. 

FUNNY CAR Q2 (5:15 p.m.): Robert Hight entered the session outside the field after a six-second opening pass but quickly made amends with a 3.936 at 325.69 mph that earned him two bonus points to lightly chop into J.R. Todd’s points lead, which now stands at 72. First-session leader Tommy Johnson Jr. improved to a 3.881 to hold onto the qualifying lead while DSR teammate Jack Beckman was second-best at 3.901. Tim Wilkerson matched Hight’s e.t., but his 305.29-mph speed ceded the higher spot to Hight.

TOP FUEL Q2 (5:40 p.m.): Leah Pritchett rocketed to an event-record 3.649 to lead the field by more than a half-tenth, blasting past national record holder Clay Millican’s pace-setting 3.702 to hold the qualifying lead at the midpoint. Antron Brown and good buddy Steve Torrence ran matching 3.704s for the third and fourth spots, respectively, while Blake Alexander and Billy Torrence had identical passes of 3.711 to lead a tight top half of the field.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE LOW QUALIFIER MATT SMITH: “We stayed over in Vegas and tested and found some things that had been plaguing us. We had been able to 60-foot well and get to the finish well with speed, but we just hadn’t been able to get that good e.t. What we found in Vegas just translated to here. We got eight bonus points, and while I don’t know how that factors in with what Eddie did, I know we still need to go out and win on Sunday.”

PRO STOCK LOW QUALIFIER JEG COUGHLIN JR: "Seeing some of our competitors better our previous No. 1 mark in front of us, like our teammate Erica Enders, she had lowered the boom right there. I was a little nervous to be honest because the right lane, which is what we were driving in, had been a bit tricky. But when I let the clutch out, this thing was singing the whole way through. It was a little high from first to second gear, but we really didn’t have any issues, and we were able to get all the way through there."

FUNNY CAR LOW QUALIFIER TOMMY JOHNSON JR.: “We’ve had three No. 1 [qualifying spots] in a row, and we came in here thinking there was no reason we couldn’t do it again. The first session we were actually tuned up a little more, and after watching everyone who ran in front of us, we turned it down and ran 3.96. Tonight, we were listening to the guys running 3.91, 3.90, and I thought there was no reason we couldn’t go 3.88. John [Collins, crew chief] told me he was going to try to get the car to run 281 [mph] at half-track, which should get us where we need to be, and it ran 281 and ran .88. It’s incredible that the guys have such a good handle on the car.”

TOP FUEL LOW QUALIFIER LEAH PRITCHETT: “When we have this kind of weather, horsepower weather, we just get giddy. The smile on my face is because we were able to execute. We really laid it down there. After our 3.77 [in Q1], we knew there was so much more out there, and we built off of that. It’s also a testament to some of the chassis work we were able to do at the DSR shop and put that power to the ground, and we’ve done it in leaps and bounds. We won’t have this weather tomorrow, that’s why we’re so excited we were able to capitalize today.”

FEATURES

Last week’s stunning announcement that David Grubnic would not be returning to tune Clay Millican’s Parts Plus dragster next year was like a bomb dropped on the pits, but it was a fact that Millican has been living with for the last few months, even as the duo continued to chase the Top Fuel championship.

“We’ve known it for a while,” Millican admitted. “I can’t exactly say it’s been a distraction to what we’ve been doing because I think our team has performed pretty well. I’m excited for him for whatever he’s going to do – and I honestly don’t know what that is – but I’m definitely looking forward to our next year, too.”

Millican will be reunited with crew chief Mike Kloeber, who tuned him to six IHRA world championships in their eight years together. Kloeber, who has been working on nitro cars since the late 1970s and most recently tuned Sidnei Frigo’s Top Fueler in 2016, is on hand this weekend to begin the transition, which will include all-new crew as assistant crew chief Mac Savage and the rest of the crew are departing with Grubnic.

Two years might seem to be a long time to be out of the game, but Kloeber, who’s been doing engine rebuilding in his hometown of Vancouver, Wash., has tried to keep current.

“It’s just like racing, without the travel,” he said. “I’m working with pistons and rods and dynos and all the same stuff. Working on Sidnei’s car helped me bridge the gap between working on Clay’s car [in the 2000s] and now. Things might be in different places on the cars since then, but the [legendary engine builder] Ed Pink told me, ‘Kid, I’m still building engines because the pistons still go up and down the same way.’ “

The Stringer team, which added owners this year, will now be known as Straightline Strategies Group.

“I’m really excited about what everyone is bringing to the party next year,” said Millican. “The new partners will be able to give us more money and parts to work with than we had this year, which can only help us.”

Grubnic says he will give his full effort to the team at his final event, determined to help the team hold on to its No. 2 position in the standings – which is worth $50,000 more than the No. 3 spot, so there’s some real incentive – and didn’t want to discuss or even allow us to engage in speculation of his landing spot for next year.

“Have you watched the TV show Law and Order? OK, well, I’m under a gag order,” he said with a grin. “Can’t say anything.”


 

Cameron Ferre, who impressed in his Top Fuel debut two years ago in Charlotte where he beat eight-time world champ Tony Schumacher in the opening round, is back behind the wheel of a nitro dragster this weekend, wheeling Terry Haddock’s dragster.

Ferre, who has continued running his nitro-injected A/Fuel Dragster since his last blown-nitro ride in the Paton Family dragster, has been itching to get back into the class and put the deal with Haddock together over the last few days, pulling together sponsorship he needed to pay the bills.

“It’s a good chance to get back into it and, if nothing else, keep my license current,” he said. “I haven’t stopped trying to get back here in the two years since, and I came close on a couple of years but just haven’t yet been able to pull it all together. It’s very expensive, and I don’t come from money, so it’s a fight, but I’m still fighting. The A/Fuel car has a lot of similarities to the Top Fuel car, so that’s why I’ve kept active in that. I took the summer off because my wife and I just had our first child and I didn’t want to be traveling, but now I’m back after it.

Ferre is the latest driver to turn to Haddock’s reliable ride. Earlier this year, Jim Maroney impressed in a six-race stint in the Texan’s dragster, and Haddock has also been helping Terry Totten. Haddock learned at the hands of nitro veteran Paul Smith and is emulating Smith’s path of being able to provide a steady, consistent car that goes down most tracks to provide a solid foundation for drivers looking for a ride.
 


Audrey Worm will wrap up her rookie season at this event, far from the family base in Pennsylvania, making the long trek west to fulfill a dream of running at the fabled Pomona track and attending the Mello Yello Awards Ceremony, where she will be recognized as a nominee for the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award that recognizes the year’s top rookie.

Worm and her father, John, have crisscrossed the country this year with their Outrun PD dragster, raising awareness for Parkinson’s Disease, with which John is afflicted. Their dragster carries not only the battle scars of a year on the road but the signatures of dozens of Parkinson’s patients and their families.

“It’s been mind-blowing,” she said. “The driving, to me , has been the easiest part. The sponsorship side, not so easy. But what has been especially great to us is that everyone out here has made us feel like part of the family. [Antron Brown’s] guys help us, [Leah Pritchett’s] crew helps us, Tim [Wilkerson] lets us borrow parts and gets us parts, and [Terry McMillen] and his guys all treat us so great. These teams are like big brothers and uncles to me, and Brittany [Force] and I probably talk three to four times a week about different things. We’re very blessed.”

The team has qualified at six of the eight events they’ve run this year and even grabbed their first round-win, at the Four-Wide event in Charlotte. 

“We set our goal at three round-wins, but we’ve still got this weekend to get there,” she said with a smile. “It’s gone about as well as we could have expected, even though we had some setbacks throughout the year, especially Topeka [where she suffered a tire-shake-induced concussion].

“But we are encouraged enough by the season that we’re going to try to run 16-18 events next season. Maybe start in Gainesville and skip the Western Swing and run most of the others. I’m not done yet, not by a long shot.”

 


With a solid points lead entering the season finale, J.R. Todd and the “Yella Fellas” of the DHL Toyota crew have the inside track to win the Funny Car championship, but it’s going to be business as usual, according to Todd.

“People keep asking if I’m going to change my routine or our strategy at the last race; I’m not changing the way I drive, and I don’t think Todd Smith and Jon [Oberhofer, crew chiefs] are going to change the way they’re tuning the car, and the guys aren’t going to change the way they’re working on it,” he said. “We just need to keep our focus on our main goal, which, more than anything, is winning the race. That’s what we show up to do. We need to keep making consistent runs, and that starts in qualifying, to go out there and gain some bonus points in qualifying and take it one round at a time on race day.”

While a lot of people are lauding Steve Torrence for his Countdown to the Championship performance in Top Fuel, where he has won all five events, Todd and Co. have also been spectacular, going to the final round in four of five events and winning two of them. The team showed its resiliency in Las Vegas, where they overcame a near-disastrous opening day of qualifying to win the event and assume the points lead.

“In Q1, it wore a bunch of clutch and smoked the tires, the same thing that happened to us in the final in Charlotte,” he said. “In Q2, we had a serious problem because something got in the fuel system and clogged up a bunch of stuff. It was a big problem, We changed the entire fuel system Friday night, and it was good from then on.”

That’s a testament to the work of Smith and Obehofer, guys who might sometimes be overlooked in a class where guys like Jimmy Prock and Rahn Tobler and Dickie Venables usually get the headlines, but both Smith and Oberhofer each have a recent championship under their belts, Oberhofer with Del Worsham in 2015 and Smith with Jack Beckman in 2012.

“Adding Todd to our team last year has really worked out well and really complimented what Jon was doing,” said Todd. “He won with Beckman doing the same thing, being consistent and making good, smart runs. He’s a smart guy.”

After the huge win in Las Vegas and sponsor obligations at the SEMA Show and at a Toyota Motorsports Day in Dallas, Todd spent last weekend decompressing, “laying on the couch watching football,” but is eager for racing to begin today,

“I’m excited to get back after it,” said Todd, who also is managing the stress. “I just try to stay calm. Shawn [Langdon, teammate] told me that opportunities don’t come along like this every day, and when you get them, have fun with it and don’t let it get to you.”


Just days after the disappointing first-round loss in Las Vegas that cost him the Funny Car points lead, Robert Hight was a guest on the NHRA live stream from its booth at the SEMA Show and predicted that he and crew chief Jimmy Prock would be going all-out in qualifying this weekend to hopefully whittle J.R. Todd’s lead from 74 to 59 or less, taking the lead from three to two rounds.

“We’re going to go into there aggressive and try to get all of the little points we can get because there’s a possibility we can cut it down to two rounds through qualifying,” he said. “That’s our goal.”

About a week later, at the NHRA presser the day before qualifying kicked off in Pomona, Hight was sending a different message, one about consistency above performance based on what happened at this event a year ago, where they ran hard in qualifying to try to increase their lead over Ron Capps by going for bonus points and almost failed to make the field.

“Jimmy and I talked about it during the week, about how we were aggressive last year and it bit us,” he said. “We came into this race with a strategy, leading the points, and thought we could go out and gain points every round in qualifying and make it that Capps had to go an extra round to catch us, and that strategy backfired on us because we didn’t get in until the last session, and got in only at No. 15. Ron was playing ‘small ball’ in the Countdown [consistency over performance] and it was working for them. 

“We just looked at this year and to gain 15 points on J.R. with the way they’re running is pretty unlikely unless they really stumble. I don’t think we can have that kind of strategy. We know what we have to do. We have to go to the final or win the race, and that still might not be enough. In 2007, I came in here and won the race and ended up 19 points shy of the championship [behind Tony Pedregon].”

After a week off following his first-round loss to Todd’s teammate, Shawn Langdon, in Las Vegas, Hight is more than ready to resume battle.

“I hate an off weekend, whether you’re leading or chasing,” he said. “You just want to get started and get this thing going. We’ve had a strange Countdown; we started out good but have stumbled the last two races. We dug ourselves a little bit of a hole last weekend in Las Vegas by dropping a cylinder [in round one against Langdon] and by losing second round in Charlotte.

“I said it at the beginning of the Countdown that I think it would take three wins and no first-round losses to be the champ, and I don’t know if that would be good enough against these guys. We won the two Auto Club[-sponsored] races [in St. Louis and Dallas] and there’s one Auto Club race left this weekend, and we need to go out there and get it.

“I also have two teammates. One of his teammates [Langdon] took me out [in Las Vegas], so maybe I can get my teammates to help me.”

 

John Force knows he won’t win a record 17th Funny Car championship but he’s got a chance to help his teammate Robert Hight win his third overall and second straight and is determined to help in whatever way he can.

 “My job now is to take out as many as I can and help Robert get the championship for John Force Racing, Auto Club, Peak, Advance Auto, Chevrolet and the rest of our sponsors,” he said.

He’ll hope to do to J.R. Todd what Todd’s teammate did to Hight two weeks ago in Las Vegas: Get to him early and take him out, If he can do that and Hight wins the title again, he’ll be the first Funny Car champ to go back to back since Force himself in 2001-02.

The last time Force was at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona he suffered two huge blower explosions, just part of a disastrous early season for the entire JFR team.

“I live for winning,” Force said. “I’m up against all these young guns, but so far I’m holding my own. We’ve got a pretty good hot rod right now. It’s not the quickest but it’ll go down through there and, early in the year, it wouldn’t do that but we battled back.’
 


Greg Anderson can’t win another Pro Stock championship this weekend. So, he enters the 2018 Auto Club NHRA Finals in a worse position than he did a season ago, when he lost the Pro Stock title thanks to a miracle run by Bo Butner. As such, Anderson enters the final race of the season with the same mindset as every other race: to win. 

“It’s tough, but it’s always been my goal to head to every race with the mindset of winning the race,” said Anderson. “The long-term stuff as far as winning the championship is one thing, but we’re out here for the instant gratification of winning the race. That’s what keeps us motivated and coming back out here every week.”

Anderson lost in the first round for just the fourth time this season and for the second straight race for the first time in 2018. That’s not the sort of form we’ve come to expect from the former world champion, but he feels the team identified the problems in the red Summit Chevy and can pick up ground in Pomona. 

“I think we should be able to run pretty good here based on what we learned last weekend,” said Anderson. “We should run fast here as long as we do the thing right thing (in terms of adjustments). 

Anderson lost to eventual race winner, and teammate, Butner in Pomona to start off the season. That was one of Butner’s two wins on the season – his other came in Vegas just two weeks ago. Anderson has only one win in 2018, the same as teammate Jason Line. Deric Kramer, the other car with a K.B. engine, boasts a pair of wins. 

There’s one more race remaining to book more than a quarter of the Wallys from the NHRA season. 



A strong season for Erica Enders will not end in a world championship, but it can end with a second Wally. The two-time champion hasn’t had a multi-win season since 2015, but her seven final appearances are at least one indicator the Elite Performance team has turned things around.

“I guess we’ve been in a third of the finals if you want to look at it like that, but I’ve let six get away. Three of them were engine failures, I red-lit and I lost on a holeshot in two of them. We’ll see if we can end on a high note.”

What’s amazing is how rarely Enders gets beaten off the line. She is second only to Tanner Gray in reaction time average (.0233 to .023 flat) and has red lit only twice this season. Her red-light percentage (percentage of lights that are red) is 3.6 compared to the 6.4 class average. She hasn’t had much in the way of good luck this season – and she got bit again in Las Vegas when Butner beat her off the line by .013 second.

“I let another final round get away from us in Vegas, but Bo was really tough (on the tree),” said Enders. “You know, given that it’s his last year in Pro Stock … well, I wanted to kick his ass. But if I had to lose, I’m glad it was to a nice guy.”

Enders cut a .02 light but it wasn’t enough against Butner, who averages a .033 on the season. That led to a .008-second margin of victory for the defending Pro Stock champion. Next year is looking promising for Enders and the entire Elite Performance team – that’s good news as she chases another title. 

 “I think we’ll have our whole stable fully funded and out for the whole year next year,” said Enders. “Alex Laughlin is going to run both Pro Mod and Pro Stock, I’m going to run both of those classes and we’ll also run some Radial vs. the World. So, it’ll be very busy and that’s something I’m looking forward to.” 



A strong qualifying effort paced Matt Hartford all the way to the semifinals at the NHRA Toyota Nationals. Hartford qualified in the No. 3 position and fell to eventual race winner Bo Butner despite arguably having the better car. A mechanical malfunction cost Hartford against the defending Pro Stock world champion, but he’s upbeat about his chances this weekend.

“We were at or around the third quickest car in every session and then missed pole position by just a thousandth of a second,” said Hartford. “We were really close obviously but against Bo we just had a little bit of a mishap that cost us.”

Hartford is going for his second career win (and second win of the season) after capturing that first win at the NHRA SpringNationals in Houston. He’ll have many more opportunities to win next season if he comes out to race more often in 2019. 

“It was a weekend we came away from really pleased with,” said Hartford. “We learned a lot and quite frankly we come here with a lot of good notes. My crew chief Eddie Guarnaccia is really good at altitude and that has helped us a lot at places like Las Vegas. So, when we come to a place like Pomona we’re looking back at all our old notes no matter who the power adder is, and we’ve had a few of them, and trying to make what we have now work.”

So far, so good for Hartford. He’s currently in the No. 8 position with a 6.57 and is only .008 second behind the No. 5 qualifier (Drew Skillman). There’s room for the racer, who is also experienced working on the engine, to move up the ladder before the day is over. 


Matt Smith can win another Pro Stock Motorcycle championship by taking care of business at the Auto Club NHRA Finals. To do that, he’ll use qualifying to get a handle on his Elite Performance EBR. Conditions in Pomona are almost diametrically opposite to what they were at the NHRA Toyota Nationals, making for a challenging assignment at Auto Club Raceway. 

“These are probably the driest conditions we’ve seen all year,” said Smith. “At the very least these are the driest I’ve had since rolling out this bike, so we’re really going to be working on getting the bike right for these conditions.”

A disappointing effort in Las Vegas (Smith exited in the second round) puts the impetus on Smith to get the job done in Pomona. He still holds the lead in Pro Stock Motorcycle, but only by four points over rival Eddie Krawiec. 

“We stayed on Monday and tested and learned some things,” said Smith. “We actually ran faster on Monday than we ran all weekend, so that’s good, too. Right now we’re going to try to learn some stuff and then go out and win the race and win the championship.”

“I would like to have more data obviously and it might take a round or two to get us where we need to go, but I think we’re going to get there.”

If Smith wins the race, he’ll take home his first championship since 2013. The son of Rickie Smith will try to do what his father couldn’t: win a title in the last race of the season. If he does, it’ll be his third in the two-wheel category. 



The last time we saw LE Tonglet, he had plenty to be nervous about. Not only did he have a big first-round matchup against Matt Smith to fret about, his wife, Kayla, was on the verge of having the couple’s first child. Well, Tonglet can (sort of) focus on racing this weekend. Kayla gave birth to Brodie Tonglet on Oct. 31 and both mother and child are doing well back in Louisiana. 

“I’m very excited,” said Tonglet. “Honestly, it’s a little hard to focus on being out here right now because I just want to be with them. But it’s great. Now, it’s the last race of the season, and we can really throw everything at the track and just blow everything up since [tuner Tim Kulungian] has all season to fix it.”

After looking down the trailer to see if Kulungian heard his joke (he didn’t, or ignored him altogether), Tonglet returned to his usual, relaxed self. 

“We’ve just got to make eight really good runs and let the points take care of themselves,” he said. “I’d be lying if I said the points aren’t in my head – they’re always in there, you know? But I have to do my best to focus on doing my job.”

Tonglet is 61 points behind Smith entering the Auto Club NHRA Finals after losing to Smith in the first round in Las Vegas. That’s a big hole, but it’s not insurmountable – especially if the Nitro Fish rider performs well during qualifying. 

That’s not typically the firefighter’s game, but it just might have to become his game if he wants to get into the championship hunt this weekend. His first (and only) title came back in 2010 as a rookie. He’s already at risk of losing the title of youngest champion to Tanner Gray this weekend – winning a second trophy might be just the salve he needs. 


Ryan Oehler got his Auto Club NHRA Finals off to a strong start with a 6.939-second pass. He’s still working through the learning curve of his new EBR and, after a tough NHRA Toyota Nationals, feels he’s moving in the right direction. 

“It’s just a matter of making the right changes and knowing where we’re at before making [our first run],” said Oehler ahead of that 6.939 pass. “The most important thing is going A-to-B during the first qualifying session because you just want to have a baseline and something to tune off of for the rest of the session.”

Oehler is working on his 60-foot times perhaps more than anything else. He says his riding style as one of the taller riders in the class is as important as his tuning. 

“I can use my height to my advantage if I throw my weight forward and slide back,” said Oehler. “But if I don’t use it as a benefit, it actually becomes a disadvantage. That’s something I need to work on going forward, but it’s all part of the learning process.”

He’s now qualified in the No. 9 position with a great opportunity to improve later in the day. The top half of the field is filled with 6.80s – if Oehler can get into that territory, you’ll see a lot more high fives by guys in orange. 

PHOTOS


Newly crowned NHRA Mello Yello Top Fuel champ Steve Torrence unveiled a new Mello Yello-themed Capco entry to celebrate his amazing Countdown to the Championship run.

Matt Smith became the third member of the Denso Spark Plugs 200 mph Club with a run of 200.65 mph, the third fastest speed in class history.

 

 


Pro Stock Motorcycle rookie Ryan Oehler is a finalist for the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award that goes to the season's top rookie.


Hard-charging independent Funny Car competitor Terry Haddock rode out a nasty fire in Q1 and ended up in the sand trap. He was not injured.

PREVIEW

The Top Fuel championship already belongs to Steve Torrence, so right now it’s all about the numbers. Can the Texas terror complete a perfect Countdown season, winning all six events? He’s a perfect five-for-five now and riding a 20-round win streak and no one seems to have the ability to stop him, though plenty would like to. Clay Millican, who set the national record here in February seems a prime candidate and would love to hang onto his No. 2 spot in the points in the process, especially in his last race with Dave Grubnic as crew chief.

There’s always a lot going on in Funny Car at any Pomona race, but the focus this weekend obviously is the championship battle between J.R. Todd and Robert Hight. Todd has a significant lead, but Hight is the defending champ with lots of title-fight experience. Todd has been to the final round of four of the five Countdown events with two wins, while Hight also has two victories but some early-round losses that have hurt him. Auto Club Raceway at Pomona is Hight’s home track, so he’ll have plenty of support in his uphill battle.

Tanner Gray can mathematically, but not officially, clinch the Pro Stock championship if Jeg Coughlin Jr. does not earn three more bonus points than the teenage racer during Friday qualifying. Gray must officially qualify for the Auto Club NHRA Finals before he is crowned the youngest champion in NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing history. For now, Gray will focus on taking care of business while hunting down his first win in Pomona. He came close a season ago, but a part breakage in the final gave the win, and the title, to Bo Butner. 

Matt Smith can not clinch a championship during qualifying, but he can certainly make life easier for himself by doing well during qualifying. The rider of the red EBR did not have a great weekend at the NHRA Toyota Nationals, but he can make amends for that performance by getting toward the top of the sheet in Pomona. Eddie Krawiec, Hector Arana Jr., Jerry Savoie, and Andrew Hines all have other plans. Qualifying will play a huge role in the championship picture, making every session a must watch for fans of the two-wheel category.