race reports

NHRA Pros at Pomona

Kalitta, Hight, Butner think it was worth the wait

Results compiled by Kay Burk

Photos by Ron Lewis and Pam Conrad

A determined Doug Kalitta warms up for another season.


Rain stopped the proceedings on Sunday, Feb. 10, after only six pairs of Top Fuel dragsters got down the Pomona track at the NHRA season opener.


Doug Kalitta got the first-round win over Scott Palmer, who was up in smoke at the hit of the throttle. Terry McMillen ran a career best 3.710/329.10 to beat Richie Crampton’s 3.737/325.22.

Leah Pritchett, who had struggled to a 12th place qualifying spot out of 14 entries, made her quickest pass of the weekend, 3.707 to get the win over Antron Brown’s 3.733. 


No. 2 qualifier Billy Torrence took the win over Cameron Ferre who lost traction, while defending champ and No. 1 qualifier Steve Torrence turned in the low ET of the day (3.688) in his win over Steve Faria.

In the last pair on Sunday, Austin Prock (near lane) earned his first career round win defeating JFR teammate Brittany Force in a pedal fest. The rain then forced the postponement of the other eliminations rounds to Monday, Feb. 11. 




Doug Kalitta and his Mac Tools team took home the Wally at the Winternationals Monday afternoon, one year to the day of last year's victory in Pomona, defeating 2018 Top Fuel World Champion and number-one qualifier, Steve Torrence. His victory was the first back-to-back win at the Winternationals since Larry Dixon’s wins in 2002 and 2003.


Kalitta proved his reputation as one of the best drivers in his class as three of the four rounds won were holeshot wins.


Starting in the seventh position with a 3.716 qualifying pass, Kalitta earned his 490th race start, ranking him eighth among all pro drivers. His first round match up was with Scott Palmer, who Kalitta held a 14-2 record against. Kalitta’s .053 reaction time and a 3.707 elapsed time (which was his best of the weekend), sailed past Palmer’s immediate tire smoke.


Second round Kalitta faced number-two qualifier Billy Torrence. Right out of the gate, Kalitta took the starting line advantage and the power to hold on for his first of three consecutive holeshot victories. The margin of victory was a very close .0023 seconds which amounted to approximately 13 inches at the finish line, moving Kalitta to the semi-finals.


With another challenging opponent in Terry McMillen, Kalitta powered his Mac Tools Dragster to a 3.708, but that alone would not have gotten the win light. It was his .043 reaction time that helped secure the semi-final win against McMillen’s 3.706, sending Kalitta into his 97th final round.


Torrence, who won the last six Countdown races of 2018, now sits second in the championship points, the first time he has not been No. 1 since last year’s Winternationals. Steve’s father, Billy, also fell to Kalitta in round two.

Clay Millican has a whole new team under the direction of his former crew chief Mike Kloeber. The team is still looking for the right combination as Millican lost in the first round with a 3.840/327.82 to the 3.682/333.74 of Mike Salinas. 




After having to step off the throttle in his first-round win against Terry Haddock to run 4.026-seconds, Robert Hight, who qualified at the top of the field, strung together a trio of 3.8-second runs in three good side-by-side races for his 46th career victory and fourth Winternationals win.


Hight managed a 3.856-second pass at 331.61 mph to outrun Bob Tasca’s 3.932 at 322.58 and then the John Force Racing president handed team owner John Force a loss in the semifinals.


In the finals it was another classic matchup between NHRA standout teams, John Force Racing and Don Schumacher Racing with Jack Beckman in the right lane against Hight and the Auto Club Chevy. It was a crowd pleasing drag race as the hot rods were neck and neck. Hight picked up the victory on a holeshot with his .054 reaction time and 3.881-second pass at 329.75 mph. Beckman was .062 on the light with a 3.880 pass and 329.42 mph.

Frank Pedregon returned to driving after a long absence with a little help from long-time friends Chuck and Del Worsham. Ironically, Frank lost to brother Cruz in the first round. 

Cruzer moved into a Mopar this season. He lost in the second round with a 3.962/328.46 to Beckman’s 3.875/331.94. 




Bo Butner earned the 21st Pro Stock trophy of his career at the Winternationals. Butner, driving the Jim Butner Auto Group Chevrolet Camaro, got the win over teammate Jason Line to record the 150th Pro Stock victory for Ken Black’s KB Racing team. It was win No. 8 in the category for 2017 world champion Butner.


On Monday the skies were clear and the sun was shining all day on the racing surface. KB Racing crew chief Rob Downing, along with the newest addition to the think tank, Dave Connolly, worked with Darrel Herron to put the tune-up in Butner’s Camaro.


Butner had quit racing at the end of last season, but after NHRA changed the number of events for the Pro Stock class, he was persuaded to return to competition. He lost his brother, Jim, just a couple of weeks before the season began, but decided to struggle on.


In the final round Butner crossed the finish line with a winning 6.522/211.59 to a disappointing 7.160/148.58 for Line’s brand new silver Camaro. Line had trouble firing the engine before the burnout and the engine made a loud bang, foreshadowing the end result.


“We had a few gremlins with it early on, just a couple of small electrical glitches, but it’s really good,” Line said. “I’m excited about that, for sure, and I’m happy for Bo. We’ll get our win with the silver Summit Chevy soon.”

Storm clouds gathered as Rodger Brogdon and Deric Kramer were qualifying. Brogdon topped the PS class, but fouled out in his first round against Val Smeland. 



Doug Vancil (near lane) ran 6.277 at 227.34 mph to get the Top Fuel Harley win over Tii Tharpe’s 6.322/223.50.




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