NHRA: First 2009 winners crowned at Pomona season opener

February 10, 2009 by  
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by Phil Burgess, NHRA.com

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Doug Kalitta and Ron Capps opened the 2009 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season with wins in Top Fuel and Funny Car at the Kragen O’Reilly NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. Both had not won since the 2007 season but got their new seasons off to a flying start with morale-boosting victories in Pomona. The Tuesday finish was a rare one, matched only by the 1978 event , whch also needed two extra days to complete.

Race fans who stuck around for the sixth day of the initial race of the new campaign saw a new national record in Pro Stock and a bevy of quick runs and exciting pairings thanks to cool weather and a tight track. The Pro Stock final wasn’t run until more than an hour after those in the nitro classes, but Jason Line found the delay well worth the wait as he scored his Summit team’s fifth win in the last six Winternationals.


Doug Kalitta

Kalitta joined his uncle Connie (1967) and late cousin Scott (2005) as Winternationals winners and scored the first victory for Kalitta Motorsports since the tragic loss of Scott in a racing accident last summer. Kalitta, last year’s Mac Tools U.S. Nationals runner-up who scored his most recent win in late 2007 in Richmond, defeated low qualifier Antron Brown in a tight match, 3.82, 308.57 to 3.84, 307.16, to collect win number 31.

“It’s pretty cool to win this because Connie and Scott have won here, and the roll cage of my car is actually the same one that was in Scott’s car when he won here in 2005,” said Kalitta. “I think of Scott when I’m up there on the line because he had a couple of things he would do to get himself worked up, and I’ve followed that, so it reminds me of him when I do them. He’s with us all the time, and I’m sure he’s proud that all three of us have won at the Winternationals.

“I’ve always wanted to win here; this is one of the places that ranks way up there on my list, and the Kalitta name has a long list here. I’m just happy to win with this being Connie’s 50th [anniversary in drag racing] and hope we can keep this momentum going and stay in the hunt. We’ll just play it by ear; hopefully this will help our chances of finding a primary sponsor and take it from there.”

Kalitta raced to his 56th final from the No. 11 spot, blasting past Urs Erbacher with a fire-trailing 4.64 Sunday before pounding out a 3.82 to 3.86 decision against last year’s Winternationals runner-up, Cory McClenathan, in round two. Kalitta moved to the final when Morgan Lucas shook and smoked his tires in the new GEICO dragster in the semifinals.

Brown, the surprise low qualifier at this event last year in his Top Fuel debut, again began the season from the pole position, but, unlike last year when he exited in round two, the driver of Mike Ashley’s Matco Tools dragster took it all the way to the final round. Although Brown led qualifying, his eliminations run was anything but spectacular until the semifinals. He mustered just a 4.22 to beat Top Fuel newcomer Steve Faria in round one, then received a gift in round two when Mike Strasburg was unable to stick around after the rain. Brown’s blue digger launched into hard smoke and then banged the blower, which automatically deployed the chute. He crossed the finish line nearly 16 seconds later at just 26.16 mph but nonetheless reached the final four, where the Brian Corradi- and Mark Oswald-tuned machine ripped to a 3.778 at 312.78, the second-quickest pass in 1,000-foot history, behind only Tony Schumacher’s 3.777 of last year.

Ron Capps

Capps, who didn’t win his first round of Funny Car racing last year until the fifth event on the schedule, went four straight to open his 2009 campaign, finishing it off with his 25th win in Funny Car when Jim Head lost traction at the green. Capps’ NAPA Auto Parts Dodge roared to the victory with a 4.15, 296.96.

Capps hadn’t visited the winner’s circle since the 2007 Madison event but reached his 55th final and showed that he, crew chief Ed McCulloch, and the NAPA team are serious about regaining the championship form they had showcased in years past. Although qualified just 13th in the one-shot qualifying, the car came to life in eliminations and ran low e.t. of the first three rounds. A 4.12 in round one dispatched John Force, and a 4.088 sent Bob Tasca III home early. In the semi’s, Capps sent packing perennial Pomona finalist Robert Hight, the low qualifier and the last of the Force Racing entries, in a spectacular match, 4.054 to 4.08, which was low e.t. of  eliminations.

“We ran 4.07 in the final here last year when we lost [at the Auto Club NHRA Finals],” said Capps, who also won his first NHRA national event on a Tuesday, in Seattle in 1995, “and that 4.05 against Robert was awesome because we always get up to race him and Jimmy Prock. We bring out the best in each other, and we knew we’d have to have our A game. We were worried about Jim Head, too, because he can run low e.t. at any time, and we learned that lesson last year in Seattle against Tony Bartone, where I was already counting that trophy before we ran him in the final. But seeing Doug win in front of us was very emotional, and I couldn’t wait to get down there to celebrate with him.

“It’s cool to be the first Full Throttle winner,” said Capps, whose win was his first for NAPA, “and it’s great for NAPA. We really wanted to get them a win this year because they really like our program and love what NHRA does for them because the customers can get so close. They were blown away when they came aboard last year and are doing so much with us with the TV commercials and everything. This is a big win for us.”

Head, who hadn’t been to the winner’s circle in Funny Car since the 1985 event in Brainerd and to any winner’s circle since the 1997 Memphis event in Top Fuel, reached the final round, his 10th in Funny Car and 18th overall, with his self-financed Toyota with a combination of luck and guile. Former world champ Tony Pedregon was ahead of him in round one before hiking the front end on his mount and crossing the centerline. In round two, Head put a holeshot on Ashley Force Hood and walked away with a 4.09 to 4.05 decision, narrowly winning as he rode the guardwall all the way down before kissing it just past the finish line. Head then advanced to the final with a 4.10 against local favorite Gary Densham.

Jason Line

Line followed only teammate Greg Anderson on the Pro Stock qualifying sheets, but after his Summit running buddy went out in the semifinals, Line picked up the banner and carried it forward, topping the day with a 6.65, 211.63 victory against Mike Edwards’ 6.57, 210.01. Line’s speed is a new track record.

“I drove pretty good out there, which feels pretty good because I’ve been criticized for that in the past,” said Line, who left on all four of his opponents. “I drove decent and had a pretty good hot rod – probably the second-best one here – and I would have loved to have raced Greg in the final, but we had a good race, and it feels good to win. I botched the shift in the final or I probably would have gotten the [national] speed record because I hit the chip in 3rd gear and again in 5th gear because I was so excited to be getting down the track in the final.

“We knew these conditions would be fast, and we seem to shine in these types of conditions, so I was excited about it. I don’t know what it is about this race, but our team seems to do really well here. It seems like the more time we have in the shop, the better we do, and you’re always pumped up to come here to start the season.”

Line reached his 35th Pro Stock final and scored his 16th win in the class by powering Ken Black’s Summit Racing GXP from the No. 2 spot with a pair of 6.50-second runs in the second and semifinal rounds. After an opening 6.67 against Rickie Jones, Line ran 6.549 to beat Johnny Gray and 6.584 to trailer Allen Johnson and reach the final.

Edwards, who was going for his 16th win in his 30th Pro Stock final, beat Greg Standfield with a stout 6.59 in the opening frame and followed with a second-round conquest of Jim Yates before upsetting low qualifier Anderson in the semifinals on a holeshot, 6.57 to 6.55.

Anderson, who won the Winternationals four of the previous five years (missing only in 2005), broke his own near-two-year-old 6.536 national record with a 6.528-second blast in the second round that was backed up by his first-round 6.568. The last time that the national record in Pro Stock was broken at the Winternationals was 1997, when Warren Johnson ran 6.927. Anderson’s speed on the second-round pass was 211.23, a new track record until Line’s shot in the final.

Despite falling in the semifinals, Anderson trails only teammate Line in the standings thanks to the 20 bonus points for the record. Runner-up Edwards sits third.

Unofficial points standings

Related stories:
Wet weather forces Monday Winternationals conclusion
Brown, Hight, Anderson lead Winternationals qualifying


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