race reports

NHRA Winternationals at Pomona, CA

Taking Up Where They Left Off

Words by Kay Burk

Photos by Pam Conrad and Ron Lewis


The winners of last year’s NHRA Finals were the winners of this year’s Winternationals, proving that almost three months off hadn’t been a problem for the teams. Doug Kalitta took his third straight Winternationals victory while Jack Beckman and Jeg Coughlin Jr. added to the NHRA history as it was the first time that all three winners from the Finals repeated at the next season’s opener.


The threat of rain and temperatures on Sunday in the 50’s made it tough on Southern California spectators and crews, but made for some great racing times.




Doug Kalitta and the Mac Tools Top Fuel dragster continued their mastery of the NHRA Winternationals and Auto Club Raceway at Pomona winning the season opening race for the third consecutive year.


“It was definitely an interesting day,” said Kalitta. “There was a lot of close racing today. You’ve got people up their trying to tear the tree down on you, so it makes you a little bit nervous. It worked out really well for us. I’m just so proud of my Mac Tools Toyota guys. They busted their tails today. We tore up a few parts, but it was all good. To win the 60th Winternationals is pretty special.”


In the final it was Kalitta running 3.698/330.23 against 2019 Rookie of the Year Austin Prock, whose dragster went up in smoke at the start.


Kalitta began the day against Brandon Welch who was making his first start. Kalitta had to pedal after the tires started to rattle, but Welch dropped cylinders and he shut it off. Kalitta then met rookie Justin Ashley and turned in a round of 3.706 at 325.53 mph to Ashley’s 3.965/231.83.

The semi saw Kalitta’s 3.675/329.26 knock out No. 1 qualifier Brittany Force’s 3.689/332.84. 


After picking up the No. 1 qualifier position, Brittany Force started race day with a solo run for the first round of eliminations because there were only 14 Top Fuelers at the race. She got past Clay Millican in the second round.

After besting Ferre in the first round, Prock got a bye run. In the semi, with identical reaction times, a .062 light, Prock blasted to a 3.678-second pass at 330.63 mph defeating Pruett’s 4.927 at 140.69 after she went up in smoke.

Cameron Ferre lost to Justin Ashley in the first round.

It’s Leah Pruett this year.




"It's beyond magical," said Beckman of his first Winternationals Funny Car trophy. "I've said it before; you don't know if your last win is your last win. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this ain't our last win. The Infinite Hero team is just on it. Our car has been amazing."


Beckman defeated Steven Densham in round one (4.291/294.18 to 7.622/92.71), teammate Ron Capps in round two (3.871/329.34 to 4.625/156.01), and Alexis DeJoria in the semifinals (3.843/332.92 to 9.729/78.34) to set up a final round matchup with John Force.


Against Force, the Dean Antonelli/John Medlen crew chief duo turned up the wick and tuned Beckman to a monster pass of 3.837 seconds (low E.T. of the event) and a speed of 333.33 mph. Force ran 3.897/332.34.


"We legitimately treated pre-season testing as testing," explained Beckman, the 2012 Funny Car world champion. "We changed some stuff in the cylinder heads, we ran our spare parts, we ran a whole lot of different disc packages in there, and then we went back to the November tune-up for here. We'll phase all the new stuff in as the season progresses. [That work] shows. We were 'top two' every run in qualifying, and except for the first round, we were low E.T. or second low of every single session. Our car was just absolutely amazing. As a driver, you don't want to limp your way into the winner's circle; you want to dominate. It was awesome for us. Good performance comes from confidence. Confidence creates good performance, and I just hope it snowballs for us."


Beginning the chase for his 17th Funny Car world championship, John Force handled his BlueDEF Chevrolet Camaro SS to a 3.875-second pass at 329.02 mph to defeat Bob Bode’s 10.726 at 85.45 after he smoked the tires. Force’s win would put him against familiar foe Tommy Johnson Jr. in the quarterfinal. After both drivers dropped cylinders down track, Force and his 4.011-second pass at 275.06 mph powered past Johnson Jr.’s 8.431 at 80.69.

Racing against No. 1 qualifier Matt Hagan in the semifinals, Force would drive around the 2014 world champion for a 3.923-second pass at 331.28 mph as Hagan lost traction for an 8.859 at 78.06.




Jeg Coughlin Jr. posted low elapsed time of every round in both qualifying and eliminations to secure his 64th Pro Stock trophy.


Coughlin's perfect performance earned him the maximum of 130 points to put him clearly in front of the class. Coughlin's closest contest Sunday came in the final where Jason Line crossed the finish line .034 seconds behind Coughlin's JEGS.com Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro. Coughlin turned in a 6.522/210.80 to Line’s 6.565/209.56.


The road to Coughlin's 112th career Pro Stock final went through Joey Grose, whom he beat with 6.542 at 210.18 mph to Grose's 6.7 at 206.29 mph; Chris McGaha, who fell to Coughlin's 6.546 at 210.28 to his own 6.574 at 209.72 mph (after a .019-second head-start by Coughlin); and Kenny Delco, who surrendered to a 6.535 at 210.44 mph with a 6.716 at 180.28 mph.


"We just pecked away at the tune-up, the motor and my driving, frankly, and we just couldn't be any happier with how everything turned out,” Coughlin said. “And we weren't really lights-out if you look at the data. There's room to improve.”


Line had a holeshot win in the first round against Alex Laughlin, then Fernando Cuadra Jr. redlighted in the second. Line met 2019 Pro Stock champ Erica Enders in the semifinal, where Enders’ Camaro lost traction and Line posted a 6.582/208.94 to the 6.621/209.95 for Enders.


"We did okay today, and we get another chance in Phoenix in two weeks, so I'm looking forward to that," said Line, who will hang up his Pro Stock driving suit at the conclusion of the 2020 season. 

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