Slaps were thrown, engines were blown, emotions and nerves were pushed to the absolute limit. And although I’m sure Bret Kepner will school me otherwise, you’d be hard pressed to find a crazier day in the history of any class at the Finals than we saw yesterday in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
At the end of the 55th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, the racer that dominated the regular season walked away with the big, black-based, championship Wally, but not without lunching on humble pie all day after an unforced error ended his race in round 1.
Andrew Hines would likely have another PSM championship or two on his resume were it not for some mistakes in the heat of championship battle in the early days of his career. Now a rock-solid racer, those days seemed long in Hines’ rearview. All he need do to win his sixth championship was win one round Sunday in Pomona.
Qualified 4th, Andrew faced 13th qualifier Jianna Salinas (feature photo at the top of the article). A true rookie who’s quite visibly still learning her trade, Salinas would be a walkover for Hines. This championship was done and banked.
But as they say, “That’s why they run the race.” Hines relaxed in staging and his season-dominating Harley-Davidson slipped back out of the beam. A redlight loss that sent the hearts of Matt Smith and Jerry Savoie—second and third in points respectively—racing with the thrill of possibility.
With the focus firmly on championship contenders, Salinas and Steve Johnson met in E2. Jianna put an .022 light to Steve’s .070, and then instead of driving around, Johnson’s Suzuki blew the motor and Salinas advanced to the semis for the first time ever.
Mechanical or electrical failure was indeed a growing part of the Pomona PSM story. Savoie smoked a Suzuki motor in Q4, and now Johnson had the same thing happen on raceday. Championship contender Smith beat Flyin’ Ryan Oehler in E2, but not without a lurid puff of smoke at the top end.
That puff turned to a poof when the motor broke in 4thgear in the semis against Salinas, and Smith’s championship bid was done. Jianna once again took the tree and soldiered on to another 7 second, round win.
Two championship contenders were now on her gunbelt and Salinas was going to an improbable final. Surely that would be it, right? Now she was facing Jerry Savoie and the White Alligator Racing team, who since Jerry’s Indy win have been on an incredible hot streak. Jerry’s performance advantage against Jianna is nearly 2 tenths—just release the clutch and shift—what could go wrong? He would soon be lifting his second championship trophy, right?
But….that’s why they run the race….Some sort of sensor problem reared its raspy head as Jerry wicked it up in the waterbox. He staged and took the tree, but the loss was already in his body language. The bike died—as did the championship hopes that were inflamed by the events of the day—as soon as Jerry threw the clutch.
In the other lane, Salinas leaned and twisted to her first win with the unlikely numbers of 7.464 at 180.81 miles per hour. Above is stop-action video of one of Jianna’s very first passes at Gainesville. Most every run since has had a similar appearance. But the cards in Pomona were dealt her way and she played them through to the jackpot. The sincere and driven young racer is a Scrapper indeed.
Here’s the Pomona final and Jianna’s reaction:
“On Saturday morning, I was just fighting to qualify and I never thought I would be able to pull this off,” Salinas said. “To be here right now in this moment, it’s not something I would ever thought would happen this soon. On raceday, anything can happen. Sometimes consistency is all you need to win, and I’m just there to race my race. I felt very lucky and when it’s your day, it’s your day.”
Hines’ sixth championship was now indeed in the bank, the big trophy hoisted overhead with son Declan at his side. Hines was appropriately humble about how events played out in his favor.
“I put my team in such a bad situation and I chalked it up that we’re done,” Hines said. “It was just absolute insanity. It was a total, utter disappointment on my behalf and a bitter pill to swallow. This was one of the craziest days ever and the final round was absolutely astonishing. But the reason why we’re here right now is what my team did all season long. It wasn’t just this race, it was what my guys did all year.”
And indeed the Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson team did just that, including Mike Mullaney, who led fabrication efforts on Hines’ new chassis and is a shoe-in for Drag Illustrated’s “30 under 30.”
Hines was dominant throughout the 2019 regular season, putting together arguably the best season of his career with eight wins (56 total on his resume) in ten final rounds.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE RACE RESULTS:
ROUND ONE — Ryan Oehler, 6.932, 193.49 def. Scotty Pollacheck, 6.945, 194.60; Angelle Sampey, Harley-Davidson, 6.886, 193.65 def. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.893, 195.22; Hector Arana Jr, 6.934, 193.82 def. Hector Arana, 6.974, 194.72; Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.888, 195.05 def. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, Foul – Red Light; Jianna Salinas, Suzuki, 6.987, 187.29 def. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, Foul – Red Light; Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.903, 190.94 def. Freddie Camarena, Suzuki, 7.027, 193.57; Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.912, 191.87 def. Angie Smith, 7.022, 189.66; Matt Smith, 6.885, 196.70 def. Katie Sullivan, Suzuki, 7.119, 187.44;
QUARTERFINALS — Savoie, 6.860, 194.21 def. Arana Jr, Foul – Red Light; Salinas, 7.062, 184.55 def. Johnson, 13.432, 58.11; Stoffer, 6.894, 195.51 def. Sampey, 6.907, 193.96; M. Smith, 6.893, 195.90 def. Oehler, 6.944, 194.55;
SEMIFINALS — Salinas, 7.024, 186.85 def. M. Smith, 8.969, 97.85; Savoie, 6.855, 195.79 def. Stoffer, Foul – Red Light;
FINAL — Salinas, 7.464, 180.81 def. Savoie, Broke.
Pro Stock Motorcycle FINAL POINTS
- Andrew Hines, 2,599; 2. Jerry Savoie, 2,573; 3. Matt Smith, 2,553; 4. Karen Stoffer, 2,534; 5. Eddie Krawiec, 2,474; 6. Hector Arana Jr, 2,389; 7. Angelle Sampey, 2,381; 8. Angie Smith, 2,281; 9. Ryan Oehler, 2,271; 10. Hector Arana, 2,209
Steve Torrence clinched his second straight NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel world title by advancing to the semifinals and making it down the track during that round on Sunday. In a massive second-round matchup with 2017 world champ Brittany Force, Torrence pulled away at the top end, going 3.749 at 326.48 in his CAPCO Contractors dragster.
It followed a heated first-round matchup with Cameron Ferre, where Torrence, the No. 1 qualifier, won with a 3.734 at 327.82 then sucker-punched Ferre at the end of the track.
The Pomona fans showed a mix of cheers and emphatic boos for Torrence, as seen in this fan video:
Tuner Bobby Lagana and the CAPCO team rose to the occasion against Force, performing big in another clutch situation and making a clean pass in the semifinals to win back-to-back titles.
“It’s been really special to be part of a team that goes out and has the success we’ve had,” Torrence said. “It’s really special to win one championship, much less two and to do it back-to-back. I knew what we had to do and we were going to decide who had the best chance at it in the second round. The guys prevailed and gave me the racecar, and I did the job I needed to do when I needed to do it. Our group of guys has been together for years and that continuity is what has been a key recipe to our success.”
It capped off another remarkable season for the Texan, as Torrence was again in control for most of the year. He finished with nine Top Fuel wins, including a dominant stretch of eight wins in a nine-race span. Torrence, who won 11 races a year ago en route to his first title, also advanced to 14 final rounds in 2019, as he now has 36 wins and 55 finals appearances in his career. His playoff victory in Charlotte gave him the points lead for good, as Torrence’s path to the championship included three finals in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
Doug Kalitta came up only three points short of Torrence, just missing out on his first Top Fuel world title, but the veteran did close out 2019 with a victory in his Mac Tools dragster. He went 3.716 at 332.67 in his Rob Flynn-tuned dragster to beat Kalitta Motorsports teammate Richie Crampton in the final round. Kalitta earned his third victory of 2019 and 47th in his standout career, also sweeping both races at Pomona this year. He knocked off Terry McMillen, Justin Ashley and Leah Pritchett to reach the final round.
“It was fun, for sure,” Kalitta said. “I was real proud of the effort we put in today. We gave it all we could and it’s definitely still on our list to win a championship. I was real proud of my guys today coming out of here with a win, and I love running here in Pomona. It’s a great team effort we got going on here, so I’ll keep digging.”
TOP FUEL RESULTS:
ROUND ONE — Jordan Vandergriff, 3.721, 329.50 def. Austin Prock, 4.140, 245.09; Doug Kalitta, 3.740, 328.38 def. Terry McMillen, 5.811, 112.50; Richie Crampton, 4.204, 260.46 def. Mike Salinas, Broke; Justin Ashley, 4.364, 183.44 def. Clay Millican, 4.434, 181.86; Leah Pritchett, 3.753, 319.90 def. Scott Palmer, 3.813, 312.50; Steve Torrence, 3.734, 327.82 def. Cameron Ferre, 4.040, 294.82; Shawn Reed, 4.274, 217.11 def. Billy Torrence, 4.360, 241.07; Brittany Force, 4.075, 218.41 def. Antron Brown, 6.601, 114.89;
QUARTERFINALS — Crampton, 3.796, 322.81 def. Reed, 3.865, 281.77; Pritchett, 3.748, 323.12 def. Vandergriff, 18.760, 59.83; Kalitta, 4.068, 245.49 def. Ashley, 4.705, 157.74; S. Torrence, 3.749, 326.48 def. Force, 3.776, 302.41;
SEMIFINALS — Crampton, 3.762, 327.51 def. S. Torrence, 3.751, 324.59; Kalitta, 3.730, 331.85 def. Pritchett, 3.908, 302.08;
FINAL — Kalitta, 3.716, 332.67 def. Crampton, 4.884, 154.28.
Top Fuel final points
- Steve Torrence, 2,607; 2. Doug Kalitta, 2,604; 3. Brittany Force, 2,555; 4. Leah Pritchett, 2,474; 5. Billy Torrence, 2,458; 6. Richie Crampton, 2,399; 7. Mike Salinas, 2,381; 8. Austin Prock, 2,379; 9. Antron Brown, 2,329; 10. Clay Millican, 2,300.
At his home track, Funny Car’s Robert Hight raced to his third career NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world title and second in three years on Sunday by advancing to the final round.
Hight knocked off championship hopeful and No. 1 qualifier Matt Hagan with a strong run of 3.977-seconds at 324.59 mph in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS to reach the final, where he just needed to not lose any points. In the final, Hight performed a massive burnout to the delight of the fans before the car shut off, handing him the championship during what was the best season of his career.
“The most important run of my life was in the semifinals against Matt Hagan,” Hight said. “When it comes down to one run to win a championship, how will you perform? My heart was beating out of my chest, but we got it done. This has just been the steadiest year I’ve ever had and that’s a real tribute to this team. It’s amazing and I’m the luckiest guy in the world to drive this Funny Car. To win six races, lead the points with the competition level in Funny Car, I’m going to cherish this championship the most because we earned it. We did our job.”
Hight, who becomes just the fifth driver in class history to earn a third title, beat teammate John Force and then Shawn Langdon to set up the showdown with Hagan, advancing to his ninth final round in 2019. His season included a career-best six victories, giving him 51 in his career, while Hight was consistently impressive all year, leading in points at 23 of the 24 races.
After Hight’s car shut off, Beckman took advantage in the final round, going 3.920 at 323.27 in his Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge SRT Hellcat to close his year in style. Beckman finished second in points with the win, just eight behind Hight, claiming his second win in 2019 and 30th in his career. Beckman reached the final round for the 63rd time overall thanks to round wins against John Hale, J.R. Todd and Blake Alexander.
“I’ve never won Funny Car at Pomona, so that was awesome,” Beckman said. “If you win at (the World Finals), the off-season is going to be fantastic. They’ve given me such a great racecar lately, and finished a solid second, ended the year with a win and we’ve got a phenomenal car. Things are awesome right now. I’m feeling on top of the world, to be honest with you.”
FUNNY CAR RESULTS:
ROUND ONE — Steven Densham, Ford Mustang, 5.380, 135.29 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 7.949, 129.11; Shawn Langdon, Toyota Camry, 4.013, 322.27 def. Jeff Arend, Chevy Monte Carlo, 5.410, 142.29; Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.946, 321.65 def. John Hale, Chevy Impala, 13.434, 39.58; Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.114, 275.11 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Mustang, 4.998, 162.98; Blake Alexander, Mustang, 3.981, 318.69 def. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 4.056, 294.43; Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.945, 327.82 def. John Force, Camaro, 5.234, 141.97; J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.974, 323.19 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.101, 258.02; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.949, 326.00 def. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 3.982, 321.58;
QUARTERFINALS — Alexander, 4.157, 279.27 def. Densham, 4.522, 294.69; Beckman, 3.958, 324.20 def. Todd, 4.005, 318.47; Hight, 3.976, 324.75 def. Langdon, 4.004, 315.12; Hagan, 4.005, 323.04 def. Capps, 6.338, 83.99;
SEMIFINALS — Hight, 3.977, 324.59 def. Hagan, 4.015, 326.95; Beckman, 3.956, 320.28 def. Alexander, 4.020, 308.85;
FINAL — Beckman, 3.920, 323.27 def. Hight, Broke.
Funny Car final points:
- Robert Hight, 2,637; 2. Jack Beckman, 2,629; 3. Matt Hagan, 2,563; 4. John Force, 2,471; 5. Bob Tasca III, 2,446; 6. Ron Capps, 2,414; 7. J.R. Todd, 2,391; 8. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,360; 9. Shawn Langdon, 2,358; 10. Tim Wilkerson, 2,283.
In Pro Stock Car, Erica Enders was cool under pressure on Sunday, capping off a strong performance in the playoffs by winning her third world title in Pro Stock. It didn’t come easy, as Enders faced off with Greg Anderson in the opening round of eliminations, slipping past the veteran with a 6.570 at 210.41 in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro. She clinched the championship a round later on a holeshot, knocking off Chris McGaha with a 6.597 at 209.69, giving Enders a third title after back-to-back championships in 2014 and 2015.
“This one means a lot because of the valleys we’ve been through,” Enders said. “It was a challenge for us and I’m thrilled. It’s just an awesome feeling to be back on top, and it’s the reason why you never give up. Today ended up being a great day with us locking up our third championship and my teammate, Jeg Coughlin, winning the race and solidifying the second position. For everyone at Elite Motorsports to take home the top two positions in NHRA Pro Stock, it’s a huge thrill for us. We take a lot of pride in what we do and it paid off this year. I’m just really proud.”
By winning a third championship, Enders ties Shirley Muldowney and Angelle Sampey for the most titles in NHRA history by a female. On the strength of two wins and three No. 1 qualifiers in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, Enders also became the lowest seed to win a title in Pro Stock history after starting from fifth. She heads into 2020 with 25 career wins.
Coughlin’s year ended on a strong note, picking up the Pro Stock win over Fernando Cuadra with a 6.558 at 210.54 in his JEGS.com Chevrolet Camaro. It is Coughlin’s second win in 2019 and 63rd in his career, capping off a memorable day for Elite Motorsports as well. Coughlin, who was also the No. 1 qualifier, beat Joey Grose, Aaron Stanfield and Bo Butner to reach his 111th final round, taking plenty of momentum into the off-season.
“It was a tough raceday and there was a lot of emotions going on, but it was a great weekend,” Coughlin said. “It felt really good today to bring home the win, and a double win with Erica bringing home the championship and with us securing the No. 2 position. To have 2020 be the 50th year for Pro Stock, it’s going to be exciting. I think the class right now is looking extremely good.”
PRO STOCK CAR RESULTS:
ROUND ONE — Aaron Stanfield, Chevy Camaro, 6.632, 209.23 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 7.515, 139.26; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.602, 209.56 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.598, 209.23; Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.601, 209.59 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.599, 209.43; Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.610, 208.97 def. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.590, 210.01; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.573, 211.03 def. Val Smeland, Camaro, 7.735, 132.49; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.562, 210.05 def. Shane Tucker, Camaro, 6.650, 208.78; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.570, 210.41 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.575, 210.31; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.570, 210.28 def. Joey Grose, Camaro, 6.670, 207.82;
QUARTERFINALS — Butner, 6.595, 210.80 def. Graham, 14.023, 62.91; Coughlin, 6.599, 209.49 def. Stanfield, 6.611, 209.56; Enders, 6.597, 209.69 def. McGaha, 6.593, 210.08; F. Cuadra, 6.617, 207.40 def. Line, 8.371, 110.36;
SEMIFINALS — F. Cuadra, 6.586, 209.33 def. Enders, 6.612, 210.08; Coughlin, 6.588, 209.98 def. Butner, 6.582, 210.64;
FINAL — Coughlin, 6.558, 210.54 def. F. Cuadra, 6.604, 209.72.
Pro Stock Car final points:
- Erica Enders, 2,635; 2. Jeg Coughlin, 2,614; 3. Bo Butner, 2,524; 4. Jason Line, 2,495; 5. Matt Hartford, 2,448; 6. Deric Kramer, 2,409; 7. Greg Anderson, 2,408; 8. Alex Laughlin, 2,345; 9. Chris McGaha, 2,329; 10. Val Smeland, 2,203.
Sunday’s final results in all other classes:
Summit Pro Bike — Jim Werre, 9.588, 141.12 def. Jason Clampitt, Foul – Red Light.
Top Alcohol Dragster — Shawn Cowie, 5.275, 277.09 def. Chris Demke, Foul – Red Light.
Top Alcohol Funny Car — Shane Westerfield, Chevy Camaro, 5.493, 268.97 def. Mike Doushgounian, Camaro, 5.627, 262.23.
Competition Eliminator — Doug Lambeck, Pontiac Sunfire, 8.324, 161.25 def. David Rampy, Roadster, 7.205, 183.57.
Super Stock — Jeff Dona, Pontiac Firebird, 9.750, 131.45 def. Dan Fletcher, Chevy Camaro, 10.088, 130.15.
Stock Eliminator — Jeff Taylor, Chevy Camaro, 9.216, 136.50 def. Kyle Rizzoli, Camaro, Foul – Red Light.
Super Comp — Ryan McClanahan, Dragster, 8.933, 169.27 def. Allison McKoane, Dragster, 8.897, 173.16.
Super Gas — Steve Williams, Chevy Corvette, 9.870, 174.48 def. Steve Parsons, Corvette, 9.852, 171.47.
Summit Super Pro — Michael Sturgill, Dragster, 7.585, 177.56 def. Dave Meziere, Chevy Cavalier, Foul – Red Light.
Summit Pro — Chris Johnston, Pontiac Firebird, 16.846, 47.44 def. Brian Hughes, Ford Pinto, Foul – Red Light.
Summit Sportsman — Ryan Montford, Pontiac Grand Prix, 12.096, 109.36 def. Jake Ball, Pontiac Astre, 12.394, 106.07.
The 2020 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season will kick off with the 60th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals Feb. 6-9 at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
PSM story and photos by Tim Hailey, everything else courtesy of NHRA