Hagan Tops Hight As NHRA Season Begins

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, February 12 2018

Matt Hagan emerged the Funny Car victor in Sunday’s season-opening NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, Calif.

Matt Hagan once again had the Funny Car field covered from start-to-finish en route to the winner’s circle in Sunday’s season-opening 58th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals at Pomona, Calif.

A two-time Funny Car world champion, Hagan started race day at Auto Club Raceway as the No. 1 qualifier and defending event-winner, a title he also earned from pole position one year ago. Hagan’s final-round, 1,000-foot pass of 3.823-seconds at 335.90 mph trailered two-time/reigning world champion Robert Hight in a renewal of their Don Schumacher Racing vs. John Force Racing rivalry.

“To watch my guys come together and work, everything is clicking so nice _ you can tell the extra prep they put in during the offseason,” said Hagan, driver of the Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T. “It’s not so much just the parts and pieces, it’s looking at those parts and pieces and putting your hands on them.

“I’m proud to crawl in that race car that Don Schumacher owns. It’s a car that these guys have put together, that I know I can win on any given Sunday. That’s a crazy feeling. It’s a cool feeling. Everything on this car goes back to (crew chief) Dickie Venables, and at the end of the day him and Mike Knudsen have a game plan. It just shows you how smart they are.”

Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel) and reigning world champion Bo Butner (Pro Stock) also emerged victorious in their respective categories at the first of 24 events on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Hagan took down Jim Campbell, two-time world champion Cruz Pedregon and 2016 champ/DSR teammate Ron Capps before defeating Hight.

By winning the prestigious Winternationals for the second consecutive year from the top seed, Hagan replicated a feat most recently achieved by drag racing legend Don “The Snake“ Prudhomme in 1976 and 1977. Hagan’s victory was the 27th of his career and third at the Winternats in the past four years.

“Keeping our team upbeat, confident and starting the year up on a positive note is good to set goals, no matter how hard they may be to obtain,” Hagan said. “Everything was clicking this weekend and even more than the parts and pieces it’s about having the right guys to use what we have. So far we’ve done it well.”

The season continues with the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz., from Feb. 23-25. As defending event champion at that facility outside Phoenix, Hagan will be looking to capitalize upon his “Pomona Mo.”

“These things are very humbling,” said Hagan, a four-time winner last season when he finished fifth in the final point standings. “We feel great right now but we could roll into Phoenix and it could be a different story. We just have to keep it upbeat and positive and no matter what happens, keep it rolling.”

Hight, the No. 2 qualifier, powered to a 3.866-second pass at 336.99 mph _ top speed of the event for the class. But that was little consolation.

“I’m bummed that we didn’t get the win,” said Hight, driver of the Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS. “Close race. We know there’s more left in it. From testing and how we ran, we’re still learning some of these new clutch discs. Good news is two of the four rounds we were low ET and very consistent.

“If you look back a year ago how we started the season to this year it’s night and day. This is going to be a good year. I’m super-excited about the way it started. It’s like we picked up where we left off at Pomona (November 2017). Once I won the championship, I learned how to relax. I did that today and I drove really well. I like where this is going.”

Hight defeated Jeff Diehl, J.R. Todd and 2012 world champ Jack Beckman of DSR on the way to his fifth final round at the Winternationals, eighth at the facility and 65th of his career. Hight now is 3-3 against Hagan in final rounds and each has won the Winternationals against one another. Hight defeated Hagan at the event in 2011.

Kalitta claimed the Top Fuel Wally trophy with a 1,000-foot run of 3.779-seconds at 324.28 mph in his Mac Tools dragster while defeating eight-time world champ Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher of DSR. After finishing as runnerup at the 2017 Winternationals, Kalitta won the season-opener for the second time in his career.

“I tip my hat to my guys because I couldn’t do it without them, and it’s really special to get a win at a track with so much history,” Kalitta said. “We feel like we have the team in place to have a successful season but I’m really proud of Jim Oberhofer (crew chief) and what he has done for all of our teams.”

The nephew of drag racing legend and team-owner Conrad “Connie” Kalitta, Doug qualified fifth and took down teammate Richie Crampton, Scott Palmer and No. 1 qualifier Clay Millican en route to his 44th career win.

“To get the first win of the season and get that monkey off your back is huge,” said Kalitta, who finished third in the final standings in 2017. “It was kind of a lucky day. Our Mac Tools Toyota dragster coasted across the finish line twice, but we were still getting the win light. It was one of those crazy days and we went through a lot of parts, but we got it done.

“I can’t give enough credit to, not only the guys on my car, but to the entire team. The Kalitta Air guys all pitched in and we needed them. It was a thrash to make it to at least three of the four rounds. It was just a great team effort.


“We love coming here to Pomona with all of the history of this place growing up with Connie. This was a big deal. It’s just a great place to run.

“My guys have a lot of work to do to prepare for Phoenix. We blew up a lot of stuff. They’ll be working right up until Phoenix to get everything fresh again. But we’ll be ready. We’ll go there and see if we can qualify up-front and get another win.”

Schumacher drove the U.S. Army dragster to its first final round since Atlanta Dragway last season, after besting Terry McMillen, Terry Haddock and three-time world champ and DSR teammate Antron Brown.

Meanwhile, the season-long outlook of Top Fuel was shaken when reigning world champion Brittany Force escaped serious injury after a grinding, first-round crash. Force’s Monster Energy dragster went out of control during the pass, made contact with the guard walls on both sides of the track and came to rest past the finish line. She was responsive, speaking with medical personnel and transported to a local hospital for evaluation.

A daughter of 16-time Funny Car world champ John Force, Brittany, 31, reportedly suffered no major internal injuries but did experience some bruising of the lungs. A CT Scan was negative and the MRI showed subtle findings likely from previous injuries. She was admitted overnight for observation simply as a precaution.

In Pro Stock, Butner claimed the win after covering the traditional quarter-mile in 6.549-seconds at 209.62 mph in his Jim Butner’s Auto Chevrolet Camaro SS to defeat Ken Black Racing teammate Jason Line. Butner earned his sixth career victory at the expense of Line, a three-time world champion.

“It’s a shame only one of us could turn a win light on, but you’ll see a race this year with all four KB Racing cars in the semifinals. That’s our goal,” said Butner, who claimed his 21st overall NHRA win, including a plethora of Sportsman victories. “We have to go back and go to work, but that’s eight rounds in a row for us here and it says a lot for the KB Racing guys. It’s amazing. I’m still living the dream.”

Butner previously had claimed a fair amount of success at the Southern California drag strip with three wins in five Pomona finals entering Sunday’s last round. His most recent win was still fresh in his memory _ Butner won the NHRA Finals last Nov. 12 to secure his first Pro Stock championship by seven points over four-time world champ Greg Anderson, also of KBR.

“Pomona has always been good to me,” Butner said. “I’ve been fortunate to go a lot of rounds in different classes but I hadn’t won this race until now in any class. I won the World Finals in Pro Stock, Super Stock and Stock Eliminator before, but this is the first time I won the Winternationals. It’s just a cool atmosphere here and it’s a fun place to win.

“Before today, it actually didn’t really feel like the season had even started. But once the rounds started clicking, it was serious time.”

Butner advanced to the final with round-wins over Tanner Gray of Gray Motorsports, Anderson and two-time world champion Erica Enders of Elite Motorsports. In the final, Butner clocked a 0.015-second reaction time and wheeled to his best pass of the weekend. Line was 0.021-seconds at the Christmas tree and clocked a 6.568-second/209.59 mph pass. The two now are split in final-round meetings, having each won once against one another. Butner also posted low E.T. in three of four rounds Sunday.

“Both my crew and my car have been running smooth recently, and we’re just trying to keep riding that wave,” Butner said. “I feel great in this car and I have all the confidence in the world in my crew.”

For Line, Sunday’s final was his 11th at Auto Club Raceway and fifth consecutive Winternationals money-round. He had five previous wins at the venerable facility entering this year’s final, all of them during the season-opener.

Line’s path to the final included low elapsed time of the day via his 6.546-second/209.88 mph first-round defeat of Kenny Delco’s 6.617/209.20. In Round 2, Line was out of the gate with a 0.020-second reaction time and advanced with a 6.588/208.42 pass next to a red-lighting Alex Laughlin. In the semifinals, Line met Deric Kramer, KBR’s newest engine-program customer. Kramer qualified in the top half of the field and raced into the semis for the first time in his Pro Stock career. His day ended with a red light, sending Line to the final.

“It was a good weekend, even if I didn’t exactly get the result that I wanted with my Summit Racing Chevy Camaro,” Line said. “I really wanted to win this race for Summit _ this year is their 50th anniversary and my next win will be my 50th in drag racing, counting my two Stock Eliminator trophies. I didn’t get it done today, unfortunately, but it was a good weekend for the KB Racing team overall.”


Final finishing order (1-16) at the 58th annual NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif. The race is the first of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel _ 1. Doug Kalitta; 2. Tony Schumacher; 3. Antron Brown; 4. Clay Millican; 5. Scott Palmer; 6. Steve Torrence; 7. Terry Haddock; 8. Terry McMillen; 9. Richie Crampton; 10. Steven Chrisman; 11. Steve Faria; 12. Mike Salinas; 13. Leah Pritchett; 14. Brittany Force.

Funny Car _ 1. Matt Hagan; 2. Robert Hight; 3. Ron Capps; 4. Jack Beckman; 5. J.R. Todd; 6. Cruz Pedregon; 7. Tim Wilkerson; 8. Jonnie Lindberg; 9. Bob Tasca III; 10. Jim Campbell; 11. John Force; 12. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 13. Courtney Force; 14. Del Worsham; 15. Jeff Diehl; 16. Shawn Langdon.

Pro Stock _ 1. Bo Butner; 2. Jason Line; 3. Erica Enders; 4. Deric Kramer; 5. Drew Skillman; 6. Vincent Nobile; 7. Alex Laughlin; 8. Greg Anderson; 9. Chris McGaha; 10. Jeg Coughlin Jr.; 11. Kenny Delco; 12. Steve Graham; 13. Val Smeland; 14. Joey Grose; 15. Tanner Gray; 16. Alan Prusiensky. 

Sunday’s final results from the 58th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals: 

Top Fuel _ Doug Kalitta, 3.779-seconds, 324.28 mph def. Tony Schumacher, 4.715-seconds, 145.93 mph. 

Funny Car _ Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.823, 335.90 def. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.866, 336.99. 

Pro Stock _ Bo Butner, Chevy Camaro, 6.549, 209.62 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.568, 209.59.

Top Fuel Harley _ Doug Vancil, Harley, 6.333, 220.01 def. Rickey House, Harley, 10.322, 89.15. 

Top Alcohol Dragster _ Shawn Cowie, 5.333, 277.03 def. Garrett Bateman, 15.835, 55.97.

Top Alcohol Funny Car _ Shane Westerfield, Chevy Camaro, 5.425, 269.67 def. Ulf Leanders, Camaro, 5.508, 268.33.

Competition Eliminator _ Dan Fletcher, Chevy Cobalt, 8.344, 132.86 def. Clint Neff, Roadster, Foul /Red Light.

Super Stock _ Kyle Rizzoli, Chevy Camaro, 9.579, 133.55 def. Adam Emmer, Olds Cutlass, 10.120, 125.89. 

Stock Eliminator _ Larry Gilley, Dodge Dart, 10.627, 121.27 def. Ryan Mangus, Chevy Camaro, 10.664, 122.73.

Super Comp _ Gabriel Torres, Dragster, 8.922, 165.46 def. Val Torres Jr., Dragster, 8.941, 176.26.

Super Gas _ Kevin McClelland, ’27-T Ford, 9.924, 149.22 def. Phil Unruh, Chevy Cobalt, 9.899, 159.29. 

Top Dragster presented by RacingRVs.com _ Steve Will, Dragster, 6.043, 234.13 def. Kyle Seipel, Dragster, 6.862, 197.74.

Top Sportsman presented by RacingRVs.com _ Paul Mitsos, Dodge Stratus, 7.098, 191.21 def. Don Meziere, Chevy Cobalt, Foul /Red Light. 

Final round-by-round results from the 58th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals:


ROUND ONE _ Tony Schumacher, 3.696, 332.18 def. Terry McMillen, 3.752, 328.06; Scott Palmer, 6.489, 117.35 def. Leah Pritchett, Broke; Clay Millican, 3.709, 332.10 def. Steven Chrisman, 4.258, 210.80; Terry Haddock, no time recorded def. Brittany Force, Foul/Centerline; Steve Torrence, 3.717, 333.00 def. Steve Faria, 4.667, 166.29; Doug Kalitta, 4.121, 217.56 def. Richie Crampton, 4.234, no speed; Antron Brown, 4.333, 183.22 def. Mike Salinas, 9.881, 82.53; 

QUARTERFINALS _ Schumacher, 3.717, 331.85 def. Haddock, 9.851, 84.16; Millican, 9.978, 74.77 was unopposed; Kalitta, 3.760, 329.18 def. Palmer, 3.832, 323.27; Brown, 3.758, 330.07 def. Torrence, Foul/Red Light; 

SEMIFINALS _ Schumacher, 3.711, 331.45 def. Brown, 3.737, 330.72; Kalitta, 3.866, 307.58 def. Millican, 4.860, 145.02;

FINAL _ Kalitta, 3.779, 324.28 def. Schumacher, 4.715, 145.93.


ROUND ONE _ Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 4.833, 167.53 def. Shawn Langdon, Toyota Camry, 10.060, 79.68; Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.865, 325.30 def. Jeff Diehl, Camry, Foul/Red Light; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.902, 331.53 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.387, 213.77; Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.907, 333.00 def. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 4.016, 324.12; Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 4.433, 262.54 def. Courtney Force, Camaro, 4.525, 241.71; Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.036, 304.12 def. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.751, 191.95; J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.997, 323.58 def. John Force, Camaro, 4.465, 202.76; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.363, 246.17 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.504, 267.69; 

QUARTERFINALS _ Beckman, 3.901, 330.23 def. Wilkerson, 4.253, 220.51; Hight, 3.937, 329.10 def. Todd, 3.969, 324.36; Hagan, 3.954, 329.34 def. Pedregon, 4.006, 322.11; Capps, 4.001, 324.75 def. Lindberg, Foul/Red Light; 

SEMIFINALS _ Hight, 3.899, 329.10 def. Beckman, Broke; Hagan, 3.938, 330.07 def. Capps, 3.968, 320.81;

FINAL _ Hagan, 3.823, 335.90 def. Hight, 3.866, 336.99.


ROUND ONE _ Deric Kramer, Chevy Camaro, 6.565, 210.50 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.584, 210.73; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.592, 209.79 def. Jeg Coughlin Jr., Camaro, 6.595, 209.17; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.557, 210.21 def. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 12.982, 71.74; Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.572, 210.21 def. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.677, 208.81; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.546, 209.88 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.617, 209.20; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.568, 211.06 def. Joey Grose, Camaro, 6.752, 206.32; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.585, 210.18 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, Foul/Centerline; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.561, 211.23 def. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.716, 206.35; 

QUARTERFINALS _ Enders, 6.592, 209.49 def. Skillman, Foul/Red Light; Kramer, 6.586, 209.69 def. Nobile, 6.598, 210.14; Butner, 6.568, 210.05 def. Anderson, 6.622, 210.54; Line, 6.588, 208.42 def. Laughlin, Foul/Red Light; 

SEMIFINALS _ Line, 16.795, 101.77 def. Kramer, Foul/Red Light; Butner, 6.592, 209.52 def. Enders, Foul /Red Light; 

FINAL _ Butner, 6.549, 209.62 def. Line, 6.568, 209.59.

Point standings (top-10) following the 58th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals:

Top Fuel _ 1. Doug Kalitta, 112; 2. Tony Schumacher, 95; 3. Clay Millican, 84; 4. Antron Brown, 78; 5. Steve Torrence, 60; 6. Scott Palmer, 47; 7. Brittany Force, 35; 8. (tie) Steve Faria, 32; Leah Pritchett, 32; Mike Salinas, 32.

Funny Car _1. Matt Hagan, 127; 2. Robert Hight, 101; 3. Jack Beckman, 81; 4. Ron Capps, 78; 5. Jonnie Lindberg, 51; 6. (tie) J.R. Todd, 49; Tim Wilkerson, 49; 8. Cruz Pedregon, 48; 9. Courtney Force, 36; 10. (tie) Tommy Johnson Jr., 32, Shawn Langdon, 32, Del Worsham, 32.

Pro Stock _1. Bo Butner, 115; 2. Jason Line, 98; 3. Erica Enders, 74; 4. Deric Kramer, 73; 5.  Drew Skillman, 65; 6. Vincent Nobile, 63; 7. Greg Anderson, 61; 8. Alex Laughlin, 54; 9. Chris McGaha, 33; 10. (tie) Jeg Coughlin Jr., 32, Steve Graham, 32, Tanner Gray, 32.


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, February 12 2018
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