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Tweaks Put Johnson On Provisional Pole In Pomona

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 7 2015

Tommy Johnson Jr. emerged from Friday's opening rounds of qualifying with the provisional pole in Funny Car at the Winternationals. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Tommy Johnson Jr., Doug Kalitta and Jason Line rolled into historic Auto Club Raceway in Southern California rust-free Friday, each emerging as provisional No. 1 qualifiers after the opening two rounds of time trials for the 55th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals.

Johnson Jr. (Funny Car), Kalitta (Top Fuel) and Line (Pro Stock) momentarily upstaged returning/reigning world champions Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel) and Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) during the 2015 season-opener of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series in Pomona, Calif.

Johnson, who scored a third-place point finish in his debut season with Don Schumacher Racing last year, earned his provisional pole with a 1,000-foot pass in 4.018-seconds at 314.46 mph.

“The team has just picked-up right where we left off and it gives me a lot of confidence,” said Johnson, driver of the Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T tuned by crew chief John Collins. “It was just a nice, easy, clean 4.01 _ not even really getting after it.

“You know, we had a lot of momentum and the car was running really well at the end of last season. We tweaked some weak spots that we had in the offseason, but overall we didn’t make any major changes. I think that’s what’s showing right now. We picked up right where we left off.”

Johnson is among the DSR Funny Car drivers competing with the new Dodge Charger body designed and developed by Mopar with assistance from the team. The carbon-fiber bodies took nearly a year to develop.

“The new body is a welcome addition,” Johnson said. “The vision is so much better. That actually paid off on that (second) run. This is a hard place to see. When the sun is going down and with all the clutch dust in the car it can be a very difficult track to see. Having the extra vision really, really helped.”

Johnson has 10 career poles in the nitro categories, including his most recent No. 1 at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill., last summer. “What happened tonight leaves us a lot of hope for two more good runs (Saturday),” Johnson said. “There’s a legitimate shot at going into the 3’s (quicker than 4.0-seconds).”

Chad Head powered his Taylormade Aeroburner Toyota Camry to a second-place effort at 4.060-seconds and 309.63 mph. John Force, the 16-time world champion and winningest driver in NHRA history, made his ballyhooed debut in the Peak Chevy Camaro SS with a 4.061-second pass at 313.66 mph that was good for third. Force is the defending event Funny Car champion.

Two-time/reigning Funny Car world champion Matt Hagan of DSR qualified eighth at 4.090-seconds and 310.70 mph in Round 1. Hagan’s second-round pass ended in spectacular fashion halfway down the track when the engine on his Charger caught fire. Hagan escaped without injury.

“I made it to the finish line and just as soon as I lifted off the pedal it went kaboom,” said Hagan, who will switch Saturday to the 2015 Rocky Boots/Mopar Dodge body. “Talk about not seeing anything _ with fire and fuel and everything else in your face it lit up pretty good and I was just trying to hold my breath in there. I took in a little bit of smoke.

“It was a wild ride _ a hot one, too. This new body is in one piece and that was a big boomer. Honestly, that was one of the bigger ones that I’ve had. To lift the rear end and tires up that big for that long it was obviously a pretty big boomer. We’ll be back strong (Saturday) to have some more fun.”

Kalitta, who led Top Fuel with six poles in 2014, posted a 1,000-foot pass of 3.733-seconds at 327.59 mph in his Mac Tools dragster during the final pair of Opening Day. In Round 1, Kalitta posted a 3.809-second run at 323.12 mph, which put him in the No. 2 spot.

“We’re real happy with those two runs,” said Kalitta, who finished fifth in points last season. “There’s just a lot of good running cars that can run better than we did. We’ll see how it goes.”

Kalitta was No. 1 qualifier at this event last February and finished as runnerup to Khalid alBalooshi of Al-Anabi Racing. Kalitta appeared in nine final rounds and scored a pair of national event victories in 2014.

Eight-time/reigning Top Fuel world champion Tony Schumacher qualified second in his U.S. Army dragster at 3.757-seconds and 320.20 mph. Spencer Massey, Schumacher’s DSR teammate, sits third at 3.761-seconds and 328.30 mph in his Red Fuel dragster.

Line, a three-time Pro Stock Winternationals winner and series runnerup a year ago, took the qualifying lead with a quarter-mile pass of 6.523-seconds and 212.76 mph in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro.

“It was a good run,” said Line, a two-time world champion. “I know I usually whine and say it wasn’t perfect but it was a nice run. It’s nice to be up here and I’m pretty happy about that.”

Pro Stock newcomer Drew Skillman was the No. 2 qualifier, as his Ray Skillman Chevy Camaro sped to a 6.527-second pass at 212.09 mph. Four-time world champion Greg Anderson sits third at 6.535-seconds and 211.99 mph in his Summit Racing Equipment Camaro.

Meanwhile, reigning Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders-Stevens failed to make a full pass during the first two sessions, as her Elite Motorsports Camaro lost traction on both attempts. Enders-Stevens will attempt to secure a spot on the 16-car ladder Saturday when qualifying continues at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m.

ESPN2 will televise 90 minutes of same-day qualifying coverage Saturday at 10 p.m. (EST) and three hours of same-day eliminations coverage Sunday at 7:30 p.m. (EST). ESPN3’s live eliminations coverage begins Sunday at 2 p.m. (EST).

An incentive program designed to reward individual Top Fuel and Funny Car teams who make it through the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season without an oildown has been introduced by NHRA officials. A bonus fund of $50,000 will be divided among the top-10 nitro race teams with the greatest number of oil-free runs at season’s end.

In 2014, 27 of 74 nitro teams raced all season without an oildown violation. Funny Car icon John Force had the most oil-free runs among flopper drivers with 160 while Shawn Langdon made the most Top Fuel oil-free runs with 154.

Last week NHRA officials announced increased fines and point-penalties for Top Fuel and Funny Car teams depositing oil on the racetrack surface during series events. An oildown violation is defined as any incident requiring the use of NHRA Safety Safari equipment to clean an oil spill.

Funny Car driver Jack Beckman’s Dodge Charger R/T will carry primary sponsorship from the Infinite Hero Foundation during the entire 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season. The program announced Friday expands the sponsorship from last year’s six events to the full 2015 schedule for Beckman, the 2012 world champion and former Air Force sergeant.

The Infinite Hero Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing critical funding to programs that combat mental and physical injuries faced by returning military personnel and their families. The sponsorship is a partnership between Don Schumacher Racing and Terry Chandler, who again will also fund DSR’s Make-A-Wish Funny Car team for Tommy Johnson Jr.

Through Chandler’s support of the Infinite Hero and Make-A-Wish teams, there is no cost to either foundation to run the cars, enabling all funds raised at the track to be used toward their charitable purposes.

Jim Dunn Racing has gone retro at the Circle K Winternationals via the paint scheme on the MOON Equipped Dodge Charger Funny Car driven by newcomer John Hale and crew uniforms from drag racing’s “glory days.” The car is painted in black-and-white, including the decals for primary sponsor ALO Drink and selected associates.

“We wanted to pay tribute to MOONEYES, which has been with us since the beginning and is one of our biggest supporters,” said Jon Dunn, team manager of the team founded by his father. “Looking back on pictures of dad in the day, the black-and-white theme really stood out to us, so we decided that’s how the car should look. As for the uniforms, we thought that would be really creative and just complete the entire retro scheme.”

Friday’s qualifying results after the first two of four rounds of time trials for the 55th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif., first of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Qualifying will continue Saturday for Sunday’s final eliminations.

Top Fuel _ 1. Doug Kalitta, 3.733-seconds, 327.59 mph; 2. Tony Schumacher, 3.757, 323.35; 3. Spencer Massey, 3.761, 328.30; 4. Richie Crampton, 3.764, 323.97; 5. Larry Dixon, 3.776, 321.35; 6. Brittany Force, 3.779, 323.97; 7. Steve Torrence, 3.788, 325.45; 8. Leah Pritchett, 3.797, 320.81; 9. Shawn Langdon, 3.803, 320.36; 10. Antron Brown, 3.803, 313.73; 11. Troy Buff, 3.815, 310.77; 12. J.R. Todd, 3.914, 242.54.

Not Qualified _ 13. Terry McMillen, 3.996, 285.41; 14. Steven Chrisman, 4.338, 221.20; 15. Steve Faria, 4.506, 182.55; 16. Clay Millican, 4.767, 151.97; 17. Dave Connolly, 13.570, 23.48.

Funny Car _ 1. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.018, 314.46; 2. Chad Head, Toyota Camry, 4.060, 309.63; 3. John Force, Chevy Camaro, 4.061, 313.66; 4. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.066, 299.73; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.067, 300.93; 6. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.085, 305.84; 7. Robert Hight, Camaro, 4.086, 314.09; 8. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.090, 310.70; 9. Courtney Force, Camaro, 4.097, 302.75; 10. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.102, 311.34; 11. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.106, 309.34; 12. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.131, 274.55.

Not Qualified _ 13. Gary Densham, 4.182, 306.12; 14. Jeff Arend, 4.223, 263.56; 15. Terry Haddock, 4.286, 293.03; 16. John Hale, 4.440, 224.02; 17. Jack Beckman, 4.485, 204.35; 18. Bob Bode, 12.819, 41.70.

Pro Stock _ 1. Jason Line, Chevy Camaro, 6.523, 212.76; 2. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.527, 212.09; 3. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.535, 211.99; 4. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.538, 212.26; 5. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.538, 212.03; 6. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.540, 212.43; 7. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.546, 211.89; 8. Larry Morgan, Camaro, 6.551, 212.69; 9. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.553, 211.93; 10. Jimmy Alund, Pontiac GXP, 6.568, 211.46; 11. Deric Kramer, Dodge Avenger, 6.614, 210.37; 12. V. Gaines, Dart, 6.623, 210.57.

Not Qualified _ 13. Joey Grose, 6.625, 209.20; 14. Jeff Isbell, 6.677, 207.78; 15. Matt Hartford, 6.736, 206.92; 16. Vincent Nobile, 7.907, 123.05; 17. Erica Enders-Stevens, 9.708, 113.01

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 7 2015
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