By Lee Elder
POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 11, 2018) – Matt Hagan won the quickest side-by-side race in NHRA Funny Car history in the final round to win the season opening Lucas Oil Winternationals presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.
Hagan defeated defending series champion Robert Hight in the final to win the trophy. Doug Kalitta won in Top Fuel and Bo Butner won in Pro Stock.
“I didn’t know the numbers,” Hagan said. “I just heard my (teammates) yelling (on the radio). I saw the win light.”
Hagan’s pass was clocked at 3.823 seconds and 335.90 mph. He beat Robert Hight, who left the starting first and as timed at 3.866 and 336.99. Hagan’s margin of victory was a scant .0224 of a second, estimated at about 11 feet. It was Hagan’s 27th Funny Car victory, his second straight at the Winternationals and his third Winternationals win in the last four years. The last driver to win the Winternationals Funny Car title in consecutive years was Don Prudhomme in 1976-77.
Kalitta’s Top Fuel victory came at the expense of Tony Schumacher, who had a quicker reaction time but had mechanical trouble about midway through the run. Kalitta’s winning time was 3.779 seconds at 324.28 mph.
Kalitta seemed to be relieved as much as he was happy, “After the day we’ve had, breaking parts. We used up a lot of parts. It’s great getting this ribbon and this trophy.”
It was the 44th career Top Fuel trophy for Kalitta and he has been especially productive at Pomona. It was his fourth appearance in the final round in the last five Pomona races.
“It was just one of those lucky days,” Kalitta said. “I think I coasted to the finish line a couple times and I still turned the win light on. Tony got out on me a little bit and then hazed the tires.”
Butner beat Jason Line in the Pro Stock final in another close race. Butner’s winning time was 6.549 seconds and he was clocked at 209.62 mph. Line’s stats were 6.568 seconds and 209.59. Butner had a quicker reaction time.
“It’s just unbelievable,” Butner said. “We had a motor issue but they bandaided it up.”
Butner’s engines are supplied by KB Racing, the same team Line races for. It was Butner’s second straight win at Pomona and his sixth Pro Stock victory overall. He clinched the 2017 championship at the same track by winning the final race of the season at the track. He has an eight-round winning streak, going back to 2017.
The season’s first round of professional competition was wickedly unpredictable.
Defending NHRA Top Fuel champion Brittany Force crashed heavily during her first-round race. Force was reportedly awake and responsive after the crash. She was transported to a local hospital for evaluation and team press release said, “she suffered no major internal injuries, but does have some bruising of the lungs.” She was expected to spend the night at the hospital as a precaution, according to the press release.
Force’s Top Fuel dragster spun its tires shortly after leaving the starting line in the right lane during her race against Terry Haddock. The car went sideways and Force fought to correct it but eventually crossed the centerline and hit the left side retaining wall. The car nearly landed on its side, then spun backwards and re-crossed the track, hitting the right side retaining wall with the back of the car before sliding to a stop.
In the same round of Top Fuel eliminations Leah Pritchett’s dragster experienced electrical trouble, which caused the car’s parachutes to deploy during the burnout. Pritchett was eliminated without even making a pass. Later in Top Fuel eliminations Clay Millican, who established a new national elapsed time record Saturday, was knocked out by Kalitta in the semi-final round. Line and Butner advanced to the finals of Pro Stock after each of their opponents left the starting line early and were disqualified during the semi-final round.
The next race for the NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series will be February 23-25 at Chandler, Arizona.