Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – POMONA, CA – With points-and-a-half in play and world championships on the line, fans can count on the most intense racing action of the season as the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series closes out its thrilling 2019 season with the 55th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals, Nov. 14-17 at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
It is the last of six races in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs and the final event of the 24-race season. It’s a definite must-see conclusion at the birthplace of NHRA drag racing, as title contenders will put it all on the line to seek championship glory and put their stamp on history in the fastest motorsport on the planet.
There will be exciting championship showdowns in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, and an increased amount of points in play with the points-and-a-half system. The Auto Club NHRA Finals winners will earn 150 points and can earn up to 191 points at the race, setting the stage plenty of memorable performances.
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), J.R. Todd (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the race that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including live finals coverage starting at 4:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Nov. 17. All four race winners from 2019 earned world titles as well, something the four winners in 2020 would love to see take place again in Pomona.
Torrence dominated the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship a year ago, capping off his incredible postseason with a Pomona win to become the first driver in NHRA history to sweep the playoffs. That won’t happen again for the Texan, but Torrence remains the points leader as he seeks a second straight world title. He has nine wins in 2019, including one on Monday in Charlotte against veteran Doug Kalitta. Brittany Force, the 2017 champ, also remains in title contention, while the likes of Leah Pritchett, Antron Brown, Mike Salinas, Clay Millican, Richie Crampton and rookie Austin Prock will aim to end their year on a strong note.
Todd capped off his dream season in Funny Car with a Pomona win and his first world title, and the standout would love to cap his 2019 campaign with another victory at the finale. But it won’t be easy against a loaded field that includes points leader Robert Hight, who won on Monday in Charlotte to build on his lead. He’ll look to perform well at his sponsor’s race and claim a third world title, but Jack Beckman, who won the playoff opener, former champ Ron Capps and 16-time world champion John Force have other ideas against the standout.
Erica Enders closed out her first career world title in 2014 with a final-round win in Pomona, and it’s a scenario the Pro Stock points leader wouldn’t mind repeating this year. Her team has gotten on track at the perfect time in the playoffs, winning in St. Louis and posting three No. 1 qualifiers in a row. But a third world title won’t come easy with a number of hungry drivers close behind. She’ll be challenged by the likes of Jason Line, who won the playoff opener, Matt Hartford, who is seeking his first world title, 2017 world champ Bo Butner and five-time world champ Jeg Coughlin Jr.
Smith’s Pro Stock Motorcycle championship run came down to his final-round pass against Eddie Krawiec, claiming the world title thanks to his win. It could be another thrilling finish in the two-wheeled class, but Andrew Hines is trying to claim his sixth world title in the class. The points leader dominated the regular season, and has eight wins in 2019, but he’s faced a number of challenges in the postseason. To clinch a title, he’ll have to contain the likes of St. Louis winner Karen Stoffer, teammate Krawiec, Reading winner Jerry Savoie, Smith and Hector Arana Jr.
The Auto Club NHRA Finals will also feature thrilling competition in the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where the future stars of the sport earn their racing stripes. And the 28 best E.T. bracket racers in the country will be competing for the Summit E.T. Finals World Championship. Fan favorite wheelstander “Nitro Mike” will be making his Pomona debut in his P.T. Cruiser Wheelstander throughout the weekend.
NHRA fans can take part in the Mello Yello Walking Tour to see the cars and teams hard at work in the pits. Fans can also attend Pro Stock Motorcycle School and Nitro School to learn how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. Auto Club Raceway at Pomona will also host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers as well as the Sealmaster Track Walk hosted by NHRA announcer Joe Castello. Another can’t-miss experience is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes. NHRA fans are invited to congratulate the winners of the event as they celebrate their victories.
Along with the exciting on-track action, the Auto Club NHRA Finals will honor first responders with NHRA’s “Salute to First Responders” celebration.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family. Hot Rod Junction will feature nostalgia favorites as well as the Heritage Series world champions.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 12:00 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 15, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Nov. 16, at 12:15 p.m. and 2:45 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 17.