POMONA, Calif. (February 12, 2017) With crystal clear skies, the snowcapped San Gabriel mountains in the backdrop, and a 90 degree racetrack, the first raceday of the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series went off without a hitch.
Doug Kalitta raced to his career 88th final round while Leah Pritchett raced to her third career final round. Prior to this weekend, Kalitta had never run in the 3.6 second range, but he and his crew decided to do something about that. He made 6 consecutive 3.6 second passes, until the final. Leah Pritchett took her Papa John’s Pizza Top Fuel Dragster to the winners circle after she made a 3.711 second run at 324.98. “What just happened is the best thing that’s ever happened to me professionally in my career,” she said. Pritchett spoke last night about what a win at her home track would mean to her and said that a win at Pomona would rank above one at Indy. Kalitta went up in smoke right off the line and tried to pedal it but never made a recovery. Kalitta’s teammate, Troy Coughlin Jr. took his SealMaster dragster to the second round but fell to 2016 Top Fuel World Champion, Antron Brown. Tony Schumacher lost to teammate and now-event winner, Leah Pritchett. While Antron Brown, saw Doug Kalitta get to the stripe first in the semis.
It was a DSR vs. JFR matchup in the final round. Further fueling the feud between Don Schumacher and John Force over crew chief changes during the off season. Matt Hagan and Courtney Force squared off but it was the Mopar Express Lane Dodge of Matt Hagan that got to the finish line first. Hagan, who was late getting to the starting line, made a 3.875 second pass at 330.07 mph while Force ran a close 3.901 second run at 326.95 mph. “It’s a real special race for me. A lot happened over the offseason with losing my brother. [We’re] just coming out motivated. My lights have been great the car’s running great, we’ve just got a real powerhouse team right now,” Hagan explained. Prior to the final round, Hagan had a rather intense semifinal against his teammate and 2016 Funny Car Champion, Ron Capps. Capps left the starting line too early but halfway down the track Hagan looked to make a move across the center line. After a track walk and review of the tape, it was declared that Matt’s tires touched the center line, but never went past it. In his Funny Car debut, J.R. Todd made it to the second round against Courtney Force. Courtney, took out her dad, John Force in the semifinals. JFR’s third Funny Car entry, Robert Hight had a shocking round one loss to privateer, Del Worsham.
Once again, KB Racing proved to be too much for the rest of the field. After Jason Line and Greg Anderson qualified 1 and 2 respectively coming into Sunday, the two were able to make it an all-KB Racing final round. Jason Line got the best of his teammate on the starting line with a .005 reaction time and held on for his 46th Pro Stock victory. Line’s 6.568 second pass held off Anderson’s 5.579 second run. Jason Line is starting off the year with a title defense. This is his fourth consecutive final round at the Winternationals and and ninth Pomona final. “It’s a good way to start the season,” Line said simply. Jason Line now has the longest current win streak with at least one victory for the past 14 years. Line spoke about having to race his teammate, Greg Anderson, “He’s tough. He’s the one person I don’t want to race in the final round…even though I do, if that makes sense. It’s him. He’s tough and he wants to win more than me. He’s very driven.” This is the 35th time they’ve faced one another in the final round. Erica Enders raced to a semifinal appearance this weekend. Enders won back-to-back world titles with Chevy but made the switch to Mopar last year and struggled to stay competitive. Pro Stock rookie, Tanner Gray made his way around Chris McGaha in the first round but fell to event winner, Jason Line in the second round of eliminations.
The 2017 NHRA Circle K Winternationals is the first national event since the 2015 NHRA Sonoma Nationals that every #1 qualifier went on to win the race on Sunday. It’s also worth nothing that the rookies in each class made it past the first round. Troy Coughlin Jr in Top Fuel, J.R. Todd in Funny Car, and Tanner Gray in Pro Stock all made it to the second round of eliminations.
In two weeks NHRA heads to Phoenix for the NHRA Arizona Nationals (February 24 – 26).