Steve Torrence started the 2019 season a lot like he ended the 2018 season: on top. He earned the Top Fuel No. 1 qualifier and will race Steve Faria to start race day at the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com.
Former Funny Car world champion Robert Hight and Pro Stock campaigner Rodger Brogdon, who returned to full-time competition in Pomona, earned poles in their respective classes. Racing begins at 11 a.m. Pacific on Sunday at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
Austin Prock will make his Professional debut by racing John Force Racing teammate Brittany Force, and Cruz Pedregon will race his brother, Frank Pedregon. Three Elite Motorsports teammates ended up on top of the qualifying sheet in Pro Stock.
Top Fuel low qualifier Steve Torrence: “It’s really humbling for me to be the world champion in a class that is the pinnacle of the sport and to be able to compete is just a lifelong dream, let alone to be the champion. All of the work we did in the offseason seems to be paying off here. Things weren’t as good as we wanted them to be yesterday, so we made some wholesale changes.
“Between the two cars [his and father Billy’s], we were able to gather some data that we were able to use in Q4, and it played well for us. I talked a little trash to him before the run and told him before the run, ‘I don’t know how fast you’re going to run, but it’s not going to be as fast as us. He ran that 3.66 with a hole out but we got there quicker with that 3.65.”
Funny Car low qualifier Robert Hight: “Jimmy Prock and Chris Cunningham worked hard on the car all winter and figured out some things we were doing wrong in the Countdown. Testing went well, and so far so good here, but it’s going to take four rounds tomorrow to really tell us where we stack up with the competition.
“You saw a lot of good dragster runs, but the Funny Cars need a little better track prep. If our car would have stuck on that first run today, it probably would have run .83 or .84, but we hit the bump. The numbers to the 330 were really good.”
Pro Stock No. 1 qualifier Rodger Brogdon: "I’m feeling really good right now. We tested in Phoenix and ran well, so I didn’t necessarily think we would go to No. 1, but I definitely thought we could be a top three car if we came out and put our best foot forward. I’ve just got a great crew and a great team with Elite Motorsports, and it’s really all about what they’ve done here.
"There’s really no pressure. If I have any questions, I can ask them, you know. We’re all friends, and I’ve been doing this since I was 15. I know I was 15 because I snuck out to the track with my mom’s station wagon and made a run in it. So, you know, there’s just no reason to have any stress if you love what you’re doing."
TOP FUEL QUALIFYING
TOP FUEL Q3: Brittany Force and David Grubnic made a statement run in the third qualifying session, a 3.696, to take over the top spot in Top Fuel at the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com. She did it side-by-side the 2018 Top Fuel world champ Steve Torrence, who improved to a 3.711. Richie Crampton also improved, making a 3.712 and moving into the No. 3 position.
The top of the table is tightly packed, leaving little room for error for crew chiefs who want a spot in the top half of the qualifying sheet. Scott Palmer hopes to earn one of those spots for just the third time in the last calendar year with a 3.72. That puts him .002-second ahead of Mike Salinas, who looks impressive alongside tuner Alan Johnson and crew chief Brian Husen.
TOP FUEL Q4: Here comes the champ. Steve Torrence lowered the boom in the final session, making a 3.657-second pass, and pushing his dad, Billy Torrence, right off his perch. The Torrence boys took over the top two spots, and their good friend, Antron Brown, also stepped up. Brown made a six-spot jump to No. 3 with a 3.696, passing Brittany Force on speed.
Mike Salinas made his way into the top half of the field with some help from tuner Alan Johnson, and Leah Pritchett suffered another boomer in her final pass of qualifying. She will face teammate Brown while Force will face new teammate Austin Prock. That’s Prock’s first race day, which offers some intrigue to the first race day of 2019.
First-round matchups (lane choice first): Steve Torrence vs. Steve Faria; Billy Torrence vs. Cameron Ferre; Antron Brown vs. Leah Pritchett; Brittany Force vs. Austin Prock; Mike Salinas vs. Clay Millican; Richie Crampton vs. Terry Millican; Doug Kalitta vs. Scott Palmer
FUNNY CAR Q3: Tommy Johnson Jr. and his DSR teammate Matt Hagan were the stars of the third Funny Car qualifying session but neither could get around Friday leader Robert Hight.
Johnson’s John Collins-tuned Make-A-Wish Dodge Hellcat blasted to a 3.904 in the final pair of the session to eke out Hagan’s 3.909 for the No. 2 spot. Hight, who set the pace Friday with a 3.871, had a good run going with the Auto Club Chevy but had to lift early and finished with a 4.111. Bob Tasca III made his second three-second pass of the weekend with a 3.939 in his new Mustang to solidify his place in the field.
FUNNY CAR Q4: Jack Beckman’s Infinite Hero Dodge was the only Funny Car to make a full run in the final qualifying session, blasting to a 3.900 that raced him all the way to the No. 2 spot behind Robert Hight, whose Friday 3.871 stayed atop the pack.
The top nine qualifiers are all in the threes down to world champ J.R. Todd’s 3.940. Terry Haddock sat out all three previous qualifying sessions, then snuck into the field on his only pass in Q4, coasting to a 6.926 to bump out Jeff Diehl, who smoked the tires in the lane next to him.
First-round pairings (lane choice first): Robert Hight vs. Terry Haddock; Jack Beckman vs. Phil Burkart Jr.; Tommy Johnson Jr. vs. Tim Wilkerson; Matt Hagan vs. John Force; Ron Capps vs. Gary Densham; Shawn Langdon vs. Jim Campbell; Cruz Pedregon vs. Frank Pedregon; Bob Tasca III vs. J.R. Todd
PRO STOCK Q3: Welcome back to Pro Stock, Rodger Brogdon. The Elite Motorsports driver made his third terrific run of the weekend to take over the top spot from teammate Erica Enders by .006-second with a 6.522-second pass. He’s averaging a 6.542 through three passes – that would be good enough to put him in the No. 3 spot.
No one else came close to that kind of performance, though Jason Line improved slightly on his pass from the first qualifying session. He ran a 6.547 and is now qualified sixth behind K.B. Racing teammate Deric Kramer by .001-second. Val Smeland holds down the bump spot after making his first successful pass of the weekend (6.669), leaving Joey Grose and Shane Tucker on the outside of the first Pro Stock part of the weekend.
PRO STOCK Q4: Rodger Brogdon secured his second-ever No. 1 qualifier and his first since 2011 by standing on his run from the third qualifying session, a 6.522. His fourth-session run was his worst of the weekend, a 6.563, but it was representative of the session as most racers slowed due to relatively warm conditions (an 83* racetrack is warm in Pomona in February).
He gets to race Val Smeland in the first round, and Elite Motorsports teammates Erica Enders and Jeg Coughlin Jr. also finished in the top four. They’re separated by just over .02-second, and the whole class is separated by .04-second from Brogdon to Smeland. Joey Grose and Shane Tucker failed to make the field with 6.685 and 6.715 passes.
First-round matchups: Rodger Brogdon vs. Val Smeland; Erica Enders vs. Jeff Isbell; Bo Butner vs. Alan Prusiensky; Deric Kramer vs. Steve Graham; Jason Line vs. Fernando Cuadra; Greg Anderson vs. Chris McGaha; Kenny Delco vs. Matt Hartford; Alex Laughlin vs. Jeg Coughlin Jr.