By Lee Elder
POMONA, Calif. (Nov. 9, 2018) – Matt Smith collected every point he could find Friday and completed two the first two sessions of qualifying for the NHRA XXXX on top of the Pro Stock Motorcycle category charts.
Smith leads the tightest NHRA Countdown to the Championship standings of the four professional categories by a sliver of a bit. The other provisional pole positions in the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Friday were Jeg Coughlin (in Pro Stock), Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car) and Leah Pritchett (Top Fuel).
Smith’s numbers were 6.774 seconds and a track record 200.65 mph.
“This will be our third one, if we can pull this off,” Smith said. “We won in ’07, we won in ’13. In ‘07 we had to win the race to win the championship, about like the position we’re in now, so that’s kind of our goal, just go out there and win the race. Focus on Sunday.”
Hector Arana Jr. was second on Friday’s charts and LE Tonglet was third.
Coughlin said, “I let the clutch out and this thing was singing. Sounded great. It was a little bit high on the one-two shift but motored it down through there, actually rode down through the middle of the track fine.”
Coughlin’s best pass came in the second session, a 6.527-second, 211.39 mph pass.
In Funny Car, Johnson’s best lap was 3.881 seconds at 328.54 mph. Jack Beckman and Robert Hight finished the day next on the list.
Pritchett’s Top Fuel-leading elapsed time was 3.649 seconds, the only car under 3.7 seconds on Friday. Her speed was 329.34 mph.
Southern California’s latest series of wildfires burned in large and small pockets around the region and impacted the NHRA’s season finale. Auto Club Raceway, Pomona lost its WIFI capability during the first round of professional qualifying. Normally an extremely tech savvy organization, the Association could do nothing in the face of the blazes that lit ridgelines and blackened hillsides.
Pro Stock Motorcycle – A good, solid field of 21 motorcycles for the final event of the season. Matt Smith set a track speed record and posted the best time of the round to finish the round on top. His numbers: 6.774 seconds and 200.65 mph. Hector Arana Jr. was second at 6.824/198.96 and Eddie Krawiec got to third at 6.871/196.42. The three points for leading the session gave Smith 2,482. Krawiec is second at 2,476, L.E. Tonglet stayed at 2,418 and Arana Jr’s session points boosted him to 2,417.
Pro Stock – 19 cars made attempts in this session and Jeg Coughlin grabbed the top spot as the last pair in the category roar down the track. Coughlin is first at 6.542 seconds and 211.43 mph. In the other lane, Tanner Gray qualified seventh at 6.567/211.43. Jason Line was next at 6.549/211.46 and Greg Anderson was third at 6.557/212.09.
Funny Car – 19 cars made passes and shockingly, Robert Hight and Ron Capps were among the three drivers who are on the outside, looking in. J.R. Todd, the Countdown leader, was seventh-best. Todd leads with 2,553 points. Hight has 2,479 and Capps is third with 2,388. Tommy Johnson Jr. led the session at 3.960 seconds and 317.42 mph. Courtney Force was second at 3.965/316.15 and Shawn Langdon was third at 4.018/319.52.
Top Fuel – Leah Pritchett grabbed the session’s top spot at 3.774 seconds and 312.64 mph. Antron Brown is second at 3.791/325.37 and Tony Schumacher, who is trying to catch Clay Millican for second place in points, got a point at 3.792/326.24. The championship has already been decided but the top qualifying spot and final race win of the season are up for grabs. 15 cars made attempts.
Pro Stock Motorcycle – Matt Smith held on to the provisional top qualifier spot at 6.774 seconds. Arana Jr. remained second and LE Tonglet was third.
Pro Stock: It a faster session for Pro Stock, the top three times for the session now top then overall charts. Coughlin had the best run at 6.527 seconds and 211.39 mph. Erica Enders was second and Jason Line was third.
Funny Car: Johnson Jr. plucked the top spot away from Beckman on the last professional pass of the day. Beckman was second and Hight was third. Hight picked up a single point in his pursuit of Todd for the championship. Hight now trails by 2,553-2,480 with two qualifying sessions and four rounds of eliminations remaining in the season.
Top Fuel: Leah Pritchett’s elapsed time was the quickest and she collected three points for the round. Clay Millican and Antron Brown had the next-best times but Blake Alexander had the fastest speed, a zippy 330.88 mph.
NOTES: David Grubnic will not be the crew chief for Clay Millican’s Top Fuel car next season. Mike Kloeber, who worked with Millican when Millican won multiple International Hot Rod Association Top Fuel championships, will be the new crew chief.