race reports

NHRA Winternationals at Pomona, CA

And So We Begin…

Results compiled by Kay Burk

Photos by Ron Lewis and Pam Conrad

Doug Kalitta took the Top fuel win over Tony Schumacher.


The season-opening event of the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series concluded Sunday, Feb. 11, at the 58th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.


Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel) and Bo Butner (Pro Stock) were victorious at the first of 24 events during the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

Glen Cromwell attended his first national event as president of the NHRA. He took over on Jan. 1, 2018, from Peter Clifford, who became CEO of the organization.  TOP FUEL


Doug Kalitta’s win at the Winternationals was his second at the season opener and the 44th win in his 92nd final.


Kalitta met teammate Richie Crampton in the first round and both had issues, but Crampton got in trouble first, allowing Kalitta to get to the finish line first. After a thrash in the pits, Kalitta had a clean run against Scott Palmer, 3.780/329.18 to Palmer’s 3.832/323.27.


There was more trouble in the semifinal against Clay Millican, where Kalitta’s dragster dropped a cylinder, while Millican had a troubled 4.860-second run at only 145.02 mph. In the final, Tony Schumacher has issues as Kalitta drove to a 3.779/324.28 for the win.

Doug Kalitta 


"I can’t give enough credit to, not only the guys on my car, but to the entire team,” Kalitta said. “The Kalitta Air guys [from Crampton’s team] all pitched in and we needed them. It was a thrash to make to at least three of the four rounds. It was just a great team effort."

(Ron Lewis photo)


Tony Schumacher’s new crew chief power duo of Mike Neff and Phil Shuler made their presence felt at the first race of the season. The Schumacher team, which did not perform as well as they would have liked last season, took the Army Top Fuel dragster to the final round.


Schumacher got past Terry McMillen (3.696/332.18 to 3.752/328.06), Terry Haddock, who lost traction, and Antron Brown (3.711/331.45 to 3.737/330.72), clocking the quickest pass of each round.


In the final round against Kalitta, Schumacher’s dragster exploded about mid-track, breaking the rear end and ending the day.


“That was a lot of fun – the whole day. It was a fun deal in every way except for what happened at the end,” said the winningest Top Fuel driver in NHRA history.


Brittany Force escaped serious injury after a racing incident in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. Force’s Monster Energy dragster went out of control during the pass, made contact with the guard walls and came to rest past the finish line. She was responsive, speaking with medical personnel, and was transported to a local hospital for evaluation.


Force suffered no major internal injuries but does have some bruising of the lungs. A CT scan was negative and the MRI showed subtle findings likely from previous injuries. She was admitted overnight for observation simply as a precaution.


Much like her father’s explosion on Friday evening, Force’s Simpson safety gear, including her Steilo Helmet, R3 head and neck restraint, fire suit, neck collar and belts, kept her conscious and securely strapped into the driver’s seat.


It was a disappointing day for Leah Pritchett as the parachute of her Mopar dragster deployed on the burnout, moving Scott Palmer into the second round.


“We were definitely struggling this morning,” Pritchett said. “We thought we had it figured out last night but it looks like there were more major issues. We started it up four times and barely made it to the starting line, to be honest. I want to give big thanks to my guys working their tails off. They did everything they could to find the issue but it obviously reared its ugly head again, so we have some work to do.”

Clay Millican began the day with a 3.709/332.10 to 4.258/210.80 defeat of Steven Chrisman and then got a bye in the second round due to the short field. Millican then met Kalitta in the semi where both dragsters dropped a cylinder, but Millican was in trouble at the green while Kalitta was able to hold on for the win. 

Steve Torrence sported a new look at Pomona as he hoped to channel last year’s disappointing finish into new determination this season. Although he defeated Steve Faria in the first round, 3.717/333.00 to 4.667/166.29, Torrence left too early against Antron Brown. 

This season Kalitta Racing has a second TF dragster driven by Richie Crampton. It went up in smoke in the first round against teammate Kalitta. Kalitta then had an explosion and fireball that left oil in his lane. He was charged with the first oil-down penalty of the season, costing 10 points and $1,000. 

Jim Head’s Toyota went from red to blue to start the season. Driver Jonnie Lindberg got the first-round win over Courtney Force, but fouled in the next round against Capps.

Out of the Top Fuel competition early, Pritchett could only watch as DSR teammate Matt Hagan raced in Funny Car. 




Matt Hagan started the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series the same way he began his 2017 season — driving the Mopar and Dodge//SRT brands to victory at the NHRA Winternationals.


The two-time NHRA Funny Car champion wrapped up a dominant weekend in which he also claimed the pole in his Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car by outgunning Robert Hight in the final round at Auto Club Raceway. The victory was Hagan’s second straight at the NHRA Winternationals and the 27th of his career in 48 final rounds.


After earning the No. 1 qualifying spot on Saturday with a 3.822-second ET, Hagan recorded the second quickest run of the first round on Sunday to defeat Dodge Charger R/T driver Jim Campbell. The DSR driver next bested Cruz Pedregon before winning a tight all-Mopar Dodge match against Capps.

In the final, Hagan’s 3.823/335.90 run was enough to hold off Hight’s strong 3.866/336.99 pass.  

Defending Funny Car champion, Robert Hight, was the only JFR car to make it past the first round. He got past a red-lighting Jeff Diehl, then J.R. Todd (3.937/329.10 to 3.969/324.36) and Jack Beckman, who broke in the semifinal.

John Force smoked the tires on his PEAK Coolant and Motor Oil Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car at about 800 feet during the first round. He crossed the finish line with a 4.465 at 202.76 losing to J.R. Todd’s 3.997 at 323.58.

The Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro SS Funny Car driven by Courtney Force had a pedal-fest against first round opponent Jonnie Lindberg after watching her sister being transported to the hospital. Lindberg’s car crossed the finish line first with a 4.433 at 262.54 bettering Force’s 4.52 5 at 241.71.

Shawn Langdon moved into a Funny Car this season with a sponsor new to NHRA. In the first round Langdon’s Toyota was up in smoke at the hit of the throttle and opponent Ron Capps went on for the win even though his Charger’s engine went “boom” about half-track. 

Langdon’s crew get ready to run. 

Bob Tasca will be running the entire 24-race season with sponsorship from Ford. At the Winternationals his 4.016/324.12 was defeated by Jack Beckman’s 3.907/333.00 in the first round.

The Mooneyes wrap on Jim Campbell’s Funny Car certainly gets attention. He met Hagan in the first round. Enough said. 

Cruz Pedregon got a first-round win with a 4.363/246.17 over Tommy Johnson’s troubled 4.504/267.69, but then met Hagan. 

Richard Townsend from Oakdale, CA, was one of four entrants not to make the Funny Car field. Others on the outside were Bob bode, Gary Densham, and Brandon Welch. 




The final round of eliminations at the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals was victorious for KB Racing before it was even contested as teammates Jason Line and Bo Butner lined up against one another. Line, driving the blue Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro, was hungry for the win, but it was reigning world champ Butner who came out on top in a close match. No matter the outcome, KB Racing knew that they were sending team owners Ken and Judy Black home with their 12th Winternationals Pro Stock trophy.


"Pomona has always been good to me," Butner continued. "I've been fortunate to go a lot of rounds in different classes, but I hadn't won this race until now in any class. I won the World Finals in Pro Stock, Super Stock and Stock Eliminator before, but this is the first time I won the Winternationals. It's just a cool atmosphere here, and it's a fun place to win.


"Before today, it actually didn't really feel like the season had even started, but once the rounds started clicking, it was serious time."

Kenny Delco (near lane) and Bo Butner burn out during qualifying. 


Butner advanced to the final with round-wins earned over Tanner Gray, KB Racing teammate Greg Anderson, and Erica Enders. In the final, he clocked a .015-second reaction time in his Jim Butner Auto Chevrolet Camaro and wheeled his way to his best pass of the weekend, a 6.549-second journey down the quarter-mile at 209.62 mph. Line was .021 at the tree and clocked a 6.568, 209.59. The two are now split in final-round meetings, having each won once against one another. Butner had low elapsed time in three of the four rounds on Sunday.

Jason Line’s crew get him ready for a run. 


Line's path to the final included low elapsed time of the day in his 6.546, 209.88 first-round defeat of Kenny Delco's 6.617, 209.20. In the second round, he was out of the gate with a cool .020-second reaction time and advanced with a brisk 6.588, 208.42 next to a red-lighting Alex Laughlin.

Deric Kramer moved into a Camaro this year getting power from Ken Black.


In the semifinals, Line met with KB Racing's newest engine-program customer, Deric Kramer. As the newest addition to the KB Racing stable, Kramer qualified in the top half of the field and raced his way to the semis for the first time in his Pro Stock career. His day ended with a red light, sending Line ahead to the final.

Alex Laughlin’s Camaro sported a familiar logo at Pomona. He got the first-round win over Steve Graham (6.572/210.21 to 6.677/208.81) and then red-lighted against Line. 

Erica Enders took wins against teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. (6.592/209.79 to 6.595/209.17) and Drew Skillman, who turned on the red bulb, before doing the same against Butner in the semifinal. 



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