By Lee Elder
POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 9, 2018) – Clay Millican launched his 2018 NHRA Top Fuel season by posting the best qualifying pass of the season’s opening day at the Lucas Oil Winternationals presented by Protecttheharvest.com at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
Millican, the popular driver who also celebrated his birthday Friday, stopped the timers at 3.694 seconds and 327.74 mph, besting Antron Brown (3.717, 322.51) and Steve Torrence (3.726, 326.40) for the top spot in Top Fuel.
Jack Beckman topped the Funny Car charts and Drew Skillman was best in Pro Stock.
“We made 15 runs in testing and didn’t get to the finish line under power,” Millican said. “I was so ready to lift off the throttle that I was like, ‘Hey, I’m going right down the race track here.’ Once we got to 250 feet I knew we were off and running. It sure was nice to pull the parachutes.”
Brown had the quickest time in Friday’s first Top Fuel session.
The Southern California weather was nearly perfect for drag racing. The track temperature was never warmer than 111 degrees during the two sessions for the NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series for professional teams. The ambient temperatures were in the middle 70s. Many of the professional teams tested a week earlier near Phoenix, Arizona, where the track and air temperatures were warmer. The teams had to adjust to different conditions at Pomona.
“I don’t think (his Friday time) will hold up through qualifying because it is going to be cooler (on Saturday),” Millican said.
The Top Fuel class had a field of 13 cars make passes Friday.
Beckman said of his best run, “We had a pretty good 60-foot time, but it was a little soft towards the middle … The good thing about a solid run is that it is something to build on.”
Beckman’s Funny Car-leading pass came near the end of the late session. His 3.860-second, 332.84 mph pass edged out teammates Matt Hagan (3.877, 329.99) and Ron Capps (3.882 seconds, 331.12). Capps posted the quick time in the opening session. The Funny Car category had 19 cars make qualifying attempts Friday.
John Force’s engine failed during his second qualifying pass and the 16-time champion drove through a big explosion that destroyed the car’s body late in the 1,000-foot pass. The largest portion of the car’s body landed next to the left side retaining wall. After driving the car to a stop, Force walked to a waiting ambulance for a precautionary checkup. The pass was Force’s best of the day, 4.139 seconds, 265.38 mph. His car was 16th on the timing sheets after two qualifying sessions.
Drew Skillman’s 6.569-second, 210.37 mph run narrowly edged Vincent Nobile (6.586, 209.04) and Greg Anderson (6.591, 209.56) in the Pro Stock sessions. There were 16 Pro Stock cars that made qualifying runs Friday.
“Our first run was really good,” Skillman said. “The second run, we spun the tires down low, but we (can go faster). I think everybody is way off. We made a run we were not supposed to make and they’ll catch up to us.”
The event continues Saturday with two more rounds of qualifying. Eliminations begin on Sunday at 11 am, local time.