The 57th annual Circle K NHRA Winter Nationals thundered into the history books this past weekend in Pomona, despite inclement weather during the first two days. A few showers may have cost one round of qualifying, but it wasn’t going to dampen the performance in any of the three NHRA Mello Yello professional categories. The cool weather conditions did bring out some thundering performances.
In Top Fuel, Leah Pritchett and her Papa John’s Pizza team set the performance standards, taking the No. 1 qualifying position with 3.672 at 327.90 mph. She outdueled Doug Kalitta and the Mac Tools Dragster team for the top honors. She then methodically marched through the field with runs of 3.707 at 325.17 mph, 3.707 at 324.44 mph and 3.687 at 327.43 mph to advance to the final round. On the other side of the ladder, No. 2 qualifier Kalitta flexed his muscles with runs of 3.696 at 329.91 mph, 3.687 at 330.55 mph and 3.698 at 331.85 mph (low elapse time of each round) to charge into the final round. Kalitta’s chance of a season opening victory literally went up in smoke, when he lost traction in the final. He could only watch as Pritchett thundered to a 3.711 at 324.98 win. It was her second career NHRA National event victory; she previously won the 2016 NHRA Phoenix Nationals.
In Funny Car, Matt “the Hulk” Hagan and his Mopar Express Lane Dodge team dominated the category. After taking the No. 1 qualifying positon with a record tying 3.822 at 335.57 mph (also tying the top speed record), he was on the fast track for a season opening win. But winning often involves several factors that must line up correctly. You must be good (check). You must have good equipment (check). You must have a good team (check) and then some ‘racer’s luck’ as well. In his semi-final round match up against 2016 season champion, Ron Capps and his NAPA team, he needed that luck. Capps left early (red lighting), fouling out. This gave the win light to Hagan. Suddenly, Hagan’s car lost traction and headed towards the center line. If his tires crossed the center line he would have lost and the win would go to Capps. By less than an inch, it was determined that Hagan’s tires did not cross the center line, allowing him to advance to the final round.
Courtney Force and her Advance Auto Parts Chevy team qualified third and she needed some luck of her own. In the opening round she limped to a 6.610 at 105.68 mph to 19.483 at 108.10 mph win over Jim Campbell and his Mooneyes Dodge team. She then dispatched JR Todd and the DHL Toyota team, 3.892 at 326.08 mph to 3.930 at 329.02 mph. Then she ended John Force (her dad) and his Peak Chevy team’s day with a 3.872 at 326.24 mph to 3.886 at 328.54 mph drive into the final round. In the final round match-up of Hagan and Force, it was all Hagan. He left first (0.054 to 0.059) and thundered to a 3.875 at 330.07 mph to 3.901 at 326.95 mph event win.
In Pro Stock, most of the cars made improvements over last season. But in the end, the Summit Chevy Camaro teams of Greg Anderson and Jason Line both picked up where they left off in 2016. Line qualified No. 1 and Anderson qualified No. 2. In the final, Line defeated (teammate) Anderson, as he left first (0.005 to 0.056) and took a 6.568 at 211.10 mph to 6.579 at 211.36 mph victory.
The next event of the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello season is at Wild Horse Raceway Park in Chandler, Arizona in two weeks for the NHRA Arizona Nationals.