In Pomona, the Mountain View Racing team rightfully garnered a lot of headlines after their Pro Stock driver, Vincent Nobile, qualified at the top of the quick 16-car field. By Sunday afternoon, it was the “other” Mountain View driver, Paul Mitsos, who stole the show when he drove to his first career win in the Top Sportsman presented by Racing RVs.com class. There is never a bad time for a first win, but for Mitsos, the timing was perfect, largely because Auto Club Raceway at Pomona is his home track, and he was surrounded by a large contingent of family members, friends, and coworkers.
“This was a dream come true,” said Mitsos. “To win any national event is a dream, but to win your first on this stage, at my home track in front of my kids and my parents and my brothers is just unbelievable. After the win, I got to see a video of the celebration on the starting line and it brings tears to my eyes. This is what you race for; to make your friends and family proud and to live in the moment. With my family, most of the attention is on the Pro Stock team for obvious reasons. That’s a very serious deal, and I race just for fun. Vincent had a good weekend, but he got beat in the second round. After that, it was like here comes Paul. It gave us all something to cheer for.”
In Pomona, one didn’t need to look far to discover the secret to Mistos’ success; he was absolutely killer on the starting line. Through five rounds, his worst reaction time was a .013, and he had three matching .008 lights. Mitsos’ driving, and the consistency of his Chevy-powered Dodge Stratus, was just too much for any of his opponents to overcome.
“I was definitely focused,” he said. “I like to consider myself a focused individual, but this was the first time I was able to bring it all together on the same day. I can’t believe I was .008 three times, but it’s all in the way you hold the [transbrake] button. You have to duplicate the exact same pressure each round. I was .013 in the final but I actually thought I missed it. I did a horrible burnout. There was quite a crowd up there, and I thought I was going to put on a show for everyone, and I stuck the tires. I just didn’t let it faze me. I didn’t want to get that far and not be able to finish the job.”
For Mitsos, the win helped erase the memory of his most recent national event appearance in Las Vegas last November, where he bounced his Dodge Stratus off the guardrail. Mitsos and his crew were able to repair the damage and continue in eliminations, and he admitted that the incident was a valuable learning experience.
“When that deal happened in Las Vegas I knew exactly what it was and I knew how to fix it, so I wasn’t shaken by it at all,” said Mitsos. “Basically, I didn’t feel the parachute hit and I got on the brakes a little hard and kissed the wall. I had been in the habit of only pulling one parachute and sometimes you don’t feel it slow the car that much. Thankfully, we were able to get the car back together and run the next round. If I had to wait three or four months to drive again, it would have shaken my confidence.”
Despite his recent success, Mitsos is quick to point out that Nobile’s job is safe since he has zero plans to ever compete in the family Pro Stock car. That being said, he isn’t opposed to making his own Top Sportsman car a bit quicker.
“I’m really comfortable where I’m at right now,” he said. “Sportsman racing is different than Pro Stock. Pro Stock is cutthroat. I love the guys I race with in Top Sportsman. Besides, I could never see myself doing 24 races. I would like to get my car to run maybe 6.9s, though. Right now, I’m one of the slowest cars in the class. I’m comfortable being chased, but I’d still like to be a little quicker.
“Right now, I’m the happiest I think I’ve ever been and that’s showing up in my driving,” Mitsos said. “Last year, I got off to a decent start but was a little inconsistent at midseason, which was all me. Not the car. I finished No. 30 in Top Sportsman out of about 400 racers, so that wasn’t too bad. This year, I just want to do better than that. I’d love to be in the top 20 or even the top 10 if I can maybe win another race. I’m in a zone right now, and I just want that to continue. I can’t think of a better way to start a season.”
The best of the rest: Dan Fletcher continues to amaze with his longevity and consistent ability to win races. After wheeling Rick Braun’s Cobalt to the Comp title, Fletcher now has 102 national event titles and he has now won at least one national event for the last 25 years.
Fletcher, who also won the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona last November, qualified No. 8 in the abbreviated 14-car field and worked his way to the final with wins against Scott Hedlund and Randy Jones. Heading into the final, Fletcher had lost .11-hundredths in Competition Index Control penalties, and opponent Clint Neff was down a 10th in his K/AA Bantam. Fletcher was away first with a .006 light in the final but was able to cruise to the win after Neff fouled. Fletcher has now won the season-opener six times in his career.
With his win in Super Stock, Kyle Rizzoli has now won six NHRA national event titles, including victories in four straight seasons. Wheeling a classic ’69 Camaro for car owner Jim Whiteley, Rizzoli, a former Division 7 champ, defeated a host of past national event winners and national champions, including Don Keen, Kayla Mozeris, and Larry Scarth to reach the final. Coming off a bye run in the semi’s, Rizzoli had his best light of the event in the final with a .010 to help fuel a narrow three-thousandths victory over opponent Adam Emmer, who was appearing in his first national event final.
Last year, Larry Gilley won the sport’s biggest price, the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals following a thrilling heads-up, no-breakout final-round win over Darrell Steiger. Gilley scored again in Pomona and once again, the final round was contested heads-up between a pair of E/SA entries. After battling his way through five tough rounds, Gilley was paired with hired driver Ryan Mangus, who was wheeling Justin Lamb’s ’70 Camaro. Both drivers made significant performance gains for the final with Gilley’s 10.627 holding on to beat Mangus’ 10.664. A round earlier, both drivers had been in the 10.8-second range.
The latest pair of siblings to battle in an NHRA final were Division 7 regulars Gabriel and Val Torres Jr. Older brother Val Jr. was first off the starting line .024 to .035, but Gabriel drove around him to win by eight-thousandths, 8.922 to 8.941. For Gabriel, the win was his second in NHRA national event competition following his inaugural victory at the 2014 Auto Club Finals. Collectively, the Torres family, including father Val Sr., have now combined to win 12 NHRA national event titles.
Kevin McClelland, the son of longtime NHRA announcer Dave, earned his fifth career win in Super Gas, and his first since the 2013 season. Driving his ’27-T Ford roadster, McClelland faced a number of quality opponents, including Matt Blodgett, Steve Williams, Evan Kowalski, and Bob Harris. In the final round, McClelland tangled with past JEGS Allstars champ Phil Unruh and emerged as the victory with a .007 light and a 9.907. Unruh, already a national event winner in Top Dragster, Super Stock, and Super Street, broke out by a thousandth at the finish line with a 9.899 in his Chevy Cobalt.
In 2008, Steve Will was able to celebrate his daughter Hillary’s lone Top Fuel victory when she won the Topeka event. Now, Will has a national event Wally of his own after a masterful performance in Top Dragster presented by Racing RVs.com. Driving a supercharged dragster, Will qualified in the top spot for the quick field with a 6.035, more than a 10th ahead of the rest of the field. He also had top speed of the event by a wide margin at more than 235 mph. Will defeated Kenny Upton to reach the final round and then prevailed against multitime Division 7 champ Kyle Seipel with a solid 6.043 on his 6.01 dial. Seipel, last year’s seventh-ranked Top Dragster driver, was close eased to a 6.862 on his 6.81 dial in the loss.