A trio of current and former NHRA Mello Yello champions lead qualifying at the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com as Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), and Erica Enders (Pro Stock) grab the early leads.
Torrence, the reigning Top Fuel champ, blasted his Capco Contractors dragster to a 3.716 in the first qualifying session. Doug Kalitta matched that e.t. in the second session but at a slower speed to allow Torrence to keep the No. 1 spot.
Hight, the 2009 and 2017 Funny Car champ, wheeled his Auto Club Camaro to the top spot with a 3.871 in the day’s second session to take the No. 1 spot from 2016 champ Ron Capps, whose 3.91 was the best of the opening session.
Two-time Pro Stock champ Enders holds a slim .002-second qualifying lead over 2017 champ Bo Butner, 6.528 to 6.530. The top six spots are separated by just two-hundredths of a second.
TOP FUEL LOW QUALIFIER STEVE TORRENCE: “That was a really good run, to come out of the trailer and be able to go down through there and run .71. I saw my dad run .72, and jokingly, I told the guys I didn’t see any reason we couldn’t go .71. I didn’t believe it, but the car ran really good, and we were able to do it.
“We had a really good test session in Phoenix, and to be able to come out here and pick up where we left off last year was the plan; being able to come out and do it is something, but so far, we’re doing it. Day 1 of the 2019 season is going pretty good.”
FUNNY CAR LOW QUALIFIER ROBERT HIGHT: “We didn’t make it down on the first run. We had a good test session in Phoenix, but we needed some tweaking here, and we got it, and we think there’s a lot more in it.
“Honestly, I thought this day [opening day] would never get here. It’s been the longest winter with so many ups and downs and things to work out with sponsorships; not knowing if we were going to run a fourth car, Courtney [Force] leaving ... I didn’t know if I was ever going to get out of that office. I’m just glad to be out here and back with the fans and running our car again.”
PRO STOCK LOW QUALIFIER ERICA ENDERS: “It’s huge to go No. 1 on Day 1 at Pomona. We didn’t have very many low qualifiers the last couple of years. We built a brand-new car for this year; it only has 10 runs coming into this race.
"We stopped in Phoenix and made those runs in testing, but when we left Oklahoma, it had no runs on it, so to come out here and go low like that was pretty awesome.”
TOP FUEL QUALIFYING
TOP FUEL Q1: There goes the champ. Steve Torrence took his Capco Contractors Top Fuel dragster to the top of the sheet with a 3.716-second pass. That moved his dad, Billy Torrence, right off the top spot. Torrence hardly blinked when Doug Kalitta made his pass of 3.743 as the Texan surpassed him by nearly three-hundredths of a second.
Austin Prock made his Top Fuel debut as his father, Funny Car tuner Jimmy Prock, looked on. Prock held the No. 1 spot briefly, but eventually dropped to the No. 5 slot with a 3.784. Terry McMillen and Steve Faria did not make runs in the first session, while Leah Pritchett, Mike Salinas, Cameron Ferre, and Clay Millican failed to make representative runs.
TOP FUEL Q2: How about Scott Palmer? The Missouri native made a 3.72-second pass to leap all the way to the No. 3 spot in the qualifying order, right behind Steve Torrence and Doug Kalitta. He trails the two racers by .004-second after stepping up by nearly a tenth. That put him ahead of Mike Salinas, who’s racing with Alan Johnson and new crew chief Brian Husen, and Billy Torrence.
Austin Prock also made a terrific debut by running a 3.771 in his Top Fuel debut. He’s holding down the top half of the field, just behind Clay Millican, who made a terrific pass in the second session alongside new crew chief Mike Kloeber. Well, new this season, anyway. Leah Pritchett still has work to do after two unsuccessful runs and is at the bottom of the 14-car field.
FUNNY CAR Q1: Ron Capps and crew chief Rahn Tobler did not take part in preseason testing last weekend in Phoenix, and Capps said beforehand he’d make an early shutoff pass for his first run of the year. He did shut it off, running just 304.87 mph, but got the NAPA Hellcat Charger there pretty quick with a 3.915 to lead the Funny Car field after one session.
Shawn Langdon, who has four Pomona wins to his credit – four in Top Fuel (sweeping both the Winternationals and the Finals in 2013 and 2015) and one in Super Comp at the 2007 Finals, put the Global Electronics car No. 2 with a 3.927 and were joined in the three-second zone by Cruz Pedregon, defending world champ J.R. Todd, and defending event champ Matt Hagan.
FUNNY CAR Q2: Four more three-second passes went into the books in the second qualifying session, led by two-time world champ Robert Hight’s 3.915 that took over the No. 1 spot from Ron Capps, who was among many that didn’t make it down the track on a second try.
Tommy Johnson Jr. and Bob Tasca III also got into the three-second zone, and Matt Hagan backed up his earlier 3.971 with a 3.981 to earn the early favorite’s role based on consistency. Hagan’s 3.971 makes him the No. 8 qualifier, setting the top half of the field in the threes.
PRO STOCK Q1: Erica Enders came to Pomona to hurt some feelings. She led the Pro Stock sheet after the first session with a 6.528-second pass, leading 2017 champ Bo Butner by .002-second. Both K.B. Racing and Elite Motorsports posted solid numbers, with Jeg Coughlin Jr. (6.544) and Jason Line (6.549) taking the Mt. Rushmore spots behind Enders and Butner.
Don’t count out Rodger Brogdon, either, as the not-so-newcomer ran a 6.561 right off the trailer. Fellow first-time-long-time runners Shane Tucker and Jeffrey Isbell made respectable runs they’ll hope to improve upon in the second session. Matt Hartford, Joey Grose, and Val Smeland all failed to make it to the end of the quarter-mile under power. So, we’ll call that a work in progress.
PRO STOCK Q2: No one caught Erica Enders in the second qualifying session at the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals, but Rodger Brogdon made a great statement with a 6.543-second hit. That moved him into the No. 3 spot, behind Bo Butner and Enders, both of whom slowed. That was a common theme for the heavy hitters as it appears crew chiefs made the wrong adjustments while chasing bonus qualifying points.
Alan Prusiensky and Shane Tucker sat out the second session – that bumped the Australian (that’s Tucker) out of the field. Val Smeland is also out of the field after making a 12.089 run, so there will be some work to do on Saturday if they want to get into the show on Sunday. Kenny Delco holds down the quick half of the field with a 6.554.