Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – POMONA, CA – It is only fitting that an incredible season in Top Fuel, one loaded with a multitude of standout competitors, is slated for an epic finish at this weekend’s 55th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
While a handful of drivers are still mathematically alive heading into the final race of the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs, the world champion will likely be decided by four star participants: reigning NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world champ Steve Torrence, 2017 Top Fuel champ Brittany Force, longtime veteran Doug Kalitta, who is seeking his first championship, and Steve’s father, Billy, who has come alive in the Countdown with two wins.
S. Torrence currently holds the slight advantage with a 16-point lead over Force in his 11,000-horsepower Capco Contractors dragster. He leads Kalitta by 55 points and his father by 86, knowing full well it is shaping up to be a wild weekend in Pomona to close out the 2019 season.
“There are lots of different scenarios, but if we just go out and win the race, everything else will take care of itself,” Torrence said. “Look, we know from experience what can happen out here, but if we execute our game plan, it’ll be hard to beat us. I know these Capco boys are gonna give me a good race car and my job is to bring it home.”
S. 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. It is the sixth race in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs the last of 24 races in the 2019 season. For Force, she’s having flashbacks of to her memorable playoff jaunt in 2017.
That year, she dueled with Torrence down to the wire, claiming the championship in Pomona and capping off her historic run with a victory at the Auto Club World Finals. Force won in Las Vegas in her Advance Auto Parts dragster to close the gap this year, and she knows another remarkable performance at the season-finale could give her a second championship in three years.
“The biggest difference this time around is I’ve been in the hunt for a championship before so I have a better idea of how to deal with the pressure,” Force said. “I’m lucky to have (crew chiefs) David Grubnic and Mac Savage in my corner. I’m very confident going into Pomona with this team and chasing down the 2019 championship. I work alongside the most dedicated, hard-working guys. I’m proud to be in the fight with them and wouldn’t choose anyone else going into Pomona. We’ve made big moves and turned a corner at the right time. There’s only one race left and we are looking to finish this year off with a championship.”
The same goes for Kalitta, who has the most wins (46) in NHRA history without a championship. After a fabulous career that’s spanned more than 500 races and included 100 final-round appearances, it’s one statistic Kalitta would love to change in his Mac Tools dragster. He’s been steady in the playoffs, advancing to two finals and a semifinal, but Kalitta is eager to claim a win at Pomona and do everything he can to claim a Top Fuel championship for the first time.
“We are just going to drag it out to Pomona and go after the championship there,” Kalitta said. “It will be a battle for the championship. We knew it would come down to the last race of the season. I am very excited to have this Mac Tools team on my side. We will all be ready to race for this championship.”
For S. Torrence, coming through in Pomona represents an opportunity to continue one of the most impressive stretches in the class. He has nine wins in 2019, including one in the Countdown to the Championship, giving the Texan 28 victories since 2017. That mark includes his historic run of winning all six playoff races a year ago, but it’s been a much tougher road this season. The drive to win a second straight title is apparent, but S. Torrence isn’t taking these moments for granted.
“We get everybody’s best shot and we wouldn’t have it any other way,” S. Torrence said. “It’s just a privilege and a blessing to be able to compete at this level with a family race team but we know how easy it is to go from hero to zero and vice versa. (Crew chiefs) Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana (Jr.) have got a good handle on things wherever we go. I know when I go up there that I’m gonna have a shot – and that’s all you can ask for.”
Like Top Fuel, it will be a must-see duel in Funny Car as well. Robert Hight is the current points leader, but Jack Beckman is 46 points back. Matt Hagan has gotten within 56 points thanks to back-to-back wins, while John Force remains in contention at 72 points out of first.
Erica Enders closed out her first Pro Stock world title in 2014 with a final-round win in Pomona, and she takes a 92-point lead into the finale this year. She’ll try to close out a third championship, but Jeg Coughlin Jr. is after a miracle finish in Pomona.
Andrew Hines will look to finish off his sixth world title in Pro Stock Motorcycle in Pomona. He currently holds a 115-point lead on Jerry Savoie, a two-time playoff winner in 2019. Eddie Krawiec and defending world champ Matt Smith are one and two points behind Savoie, respectively.
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.
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.
NHRA ANNOUNCES RENEWAL WITH BAHRAIN INTERNATIONAL CIRCUIT
NHRA announced today that the Bahrain International Circuit, which currently boasts a vibrant drag racing community and numerous events, has extended their NHRA Worldwide Network agreement.
NHRA Worldwide Network is designed to enable drag racing facilities around the world to conduct events under the NHRA banner. As part of the NHRA Worldwide Network, Bahrain International Circuit will be able to use the specially-designed “Worldwide Drag Racing” NHRA oval for broad promotional purposes and will be able to draw on NHRA’s decades of experience and history.
“We are excited to announce Bahrain International Circuit has extended their agreement with the NHRA,” said Josh Peterson, NHRA vice president racing administration. “Drag Racing is extremely popular in Bahrain and we are excited to continue working with the track to help grow their programs.”
The track will have access to various departments within NHRA and may also request training at the track site. The track can also participate in any of NHRA’s Division Tech Seminars, SFI certification and training seminars, and emergency response training seminars.
“We are delighted to continue our partnership with NHRA. We have been part of the International Network since 2011 and during that time it has been an instrumental support in the growth of the sport in Bahrain, whilst helping us to professionalize further our operations. As a circuit, we are able to attract world class teams which are competitive at the highest level, globally. With the imminent start of the 15th season of our local BDRC season, we are looking to continue the growth of Drag Racing in the region,” said Sheikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa, Chief Executive of the Bahrain International Circuit.
As an NHRA Worldwide Network track, the facility will be able to award Wally® trophies for track champions. NHRA will establish a link to the track’s website from NHRA.com and be listed in a newly-created Worldwide Affiliation directory of National DRAGSTER and NHRA.com.
The worldwide rules adopted by FIA for drag racing originate from NHRA’s Rulebook. Members of the commission meet annually to develop the rulebook and discuss drag racing on a global basis. Currently, organized series are conducted in Europe and Australia.