The 52nd annual Auto Club NHRA Finals closed the books on an exciting 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing season. After 24 national events that started at the famed Auto Club Raceway in Pomona and traveled across our great country and back, the finish came this weekend, also at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.
The event featured the official crowning of all the category season champions, Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle. Antron Brown and his Matco Tools team claimed the Top Fuel championship for the third time. Ron Capps finally moved his name from the ‘Bridesmaid list’ to the Champion list, as he captured his first Funny Car championship, after four runner-up finishes during his 21 years as a professional driver. The Napa Tools Dodge driver clinched his title during qualifying, based on his season points as compared to the points available for his nearest competitor (Matt Hagan) during the elimination rounds. In Pro Stock, the season battle ended at the completion of the semi-final round, as Jason Line and his Summit Camaro team then had enough points to clinch the championship. In Pro Stock Motorcycle, it was a three-way battle between the Harleys of Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec and the Suzuki of Jerry “the Alligator Man” Savoie, as all three riders were separated by a mere three to four points. In the end, it was Savoie who clinched the title in the second round, when both Harley riders were eliminated. Savoie then was taken out in the semi-final round, but his first ever championship was already in his hands. Matt Smith on his Victory Gunner defeated a red-lighting Angel Sampey on her Buell XB12R for the event title with an off-paced 8.044 at 117.34 mph.
In the end, the only championship driver/rider to make it to the final round of eliminations was Jason Line. The newly crowned champion lost the event title to his Summit teammate, Greg Anderson. Anderson used a starting line advantage (0.016 to 0.044) to take a 6.580 at 210.24 mph to (quicker) 6.570 at 211.43 mph win. Ironically, Line won the championship over Anderson by a mere three points.
In Top Fuel, Antron Brown was gone from eliminations in the semi-finals, as he was taken out by JR Todd (3.708 at 329.26 mph to 3.765 at 324.44 mph). Todd and his Seal Master team would then face his teammate, Doug Kalitta in the final round. Kalitta would react quicker (0.063to 0.112) in his Mac Tools dragster, to claim the event’s Top Fuel title. For Kalitta, he would, once again, finish second overall in the season championship.
In Funny Car, Capps claimed the championship, but was taken out by a late season surging John Force in the semi-final round. In the other semi-final round match up, it was Courtney Force and her Traxxas Chevy Camaro against Tommy Johnson Jr. and his “Make-A-Wish” Dodge. As with the “Infinite Heroes” Dodge of ‘Fast’ Jack Beckman, the “Make-A-Wish” car is actually fully funded by Terry Chandler to showcase these two charitable organizations. This has done amazing things to help recognize these two organizations, as they help injured military personnel and critically ill children. Unlike the Vegas event, two weeks earlier, the young Force driver could not advance to the final round against her 16-time season champion father (John Force), as Johnson defeated her with a 3.929 at 297.09 mph to (quicker) 3.916 at 327.74 mph, using a better starting line reaction (0.009 to 0.079). In the final round, the fans were treated to one of the most statistically memorable races ever. Both John Force in his Peak Anti-Freeze Chevy Camaro and Tommy Johnson Jr in his “Make-A-Wish” Dodge Charger covered the 1000 foot racing distance with the exact same 3.918 second elapse time. Force had a speed of 321.81 mph to Johnson’s 320.51 mph, but Johnson had the better starting line reaction time (0.041 to 0.046 seconds). This gave Johnson a “hole-shot” win with only a 0.005 second margin of victory.
The NHRA Mello Yello drag racing season starts all over again, Feb. 9 through 12 of 2017.