55th Circle K Winternationals Marks New Era for NHRA

 

Photo Courtesy NHRA
Photo Courtesy NHRA

It’s back to business for the National Hot Rod Association with the running of the 55th annual NHRA Circle K Winternationals at the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. The race seems to be marking a new era with the series’ newest talent dominating their categories. Shawn Langdon showed that with or without funding, the Alan Johnson Top Fuel team is still a force to be reckoned with. Two weeks ago,  team owner Johnson had the unpleasant task of notifying his team that funding had suddenly stopped.  That didn’t keep them from venturing westward and serving notice by winning the Circle K Winternationals. We hope this attracts further sponsors for the talented team. Defending Funny Car champ Matt Hagan is back in his groove, winning big for Don Schumacher Racing and Jason Line repeated as Pro Stock Winternationals champion. 2015 has officially turned on the green light.

15WinternationalsTOP FUEL final photo
Photo Courtesy Ron Lewis/AJPT Racing

TOP FUEL

Shawn Langdon is always ready to race and the Alan Johnson Top Fuel driver got out front in the finals against Antron Brown. Johnson is looking for sponsor dollars to continue through the season, and secured a one-race deal with a friend of AJPE’s Team Manager, Brandon Bernstein, for the Winternats.  TV’s Guy Fieri and his signature “Knuckle Sandwich” lineup of food, clothing, and cutlery came on board for the first time and rode along right to the winner’s circle as part of the sponsorship team. Not only did the AJR team outperform all the others on race day, but on Saturday they ran the quickest pass in NHRA history with 3.700 seconds which gives them the opening leg of a NHRA National record and the possibility of an additional 20 points. The team raced smart, gathering four win lights, but were comfortable leaving further record setting for another day. “We needed to come out here and make a statement,” said a smiling Langdon. “We needed to show everyone that we’re serious, we want to race the whole 2015 season and contend for the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Championship. We made the quickest pass in the history of the sport, we were the No. 1 qualifier, and we won the race.

Photo Courtesy NHRA
Photo Courtesy NHRA

“There are things that happen in life. There’s times when everything falls into place, and I think this weekend was one of those moments. When you put your heart into something, you put your mind to it, you surround yourself with great people like we have at Alan Johnson Racing, good things can happen. This weekend, we had a lot of positives going on with Guy Fieri and his Knuckle Sandwich brand, with Alan (Johnson) and all his family and my family, there were just a lot of things that fell into place.”

Langdon scored the Top Fuel victory in dramatic fashion by edging rival Antron Brown’s Matco Tools dragster at the finish line. The 2013 champ powered his Knuckle Sandwich/AJPE dragster to a time of 3.799 at 309.91 to finish in front of Brown, whose machine stopped the clocks in 3.804 seconds at 310.70 mph.

It was Langdon’s second Winternationals win and the 10th victory of his career. The win gave the team much needed momentum to continue their winning ways.“There are things that happen in life and then there are moments when things just fall into place,” said the No. 1 qualifier, Langdon. He defeated Steve Chrisman, Leah Pritchett and Spencer Massey in early elimination rounds before racing past Brown in the final. Langdon continued, “We had to come out here and do well and make a statement. Now we’ll take what we did here and move on to Phoenix and continue what we are doing. We are still looking for sponsorship and trying to do the best we can.”

15WinternationalsMattHagan
Photo Courtesy NHRA

FUNNY CAR

Matt Hagan and his Don Schumacher Racing Mopar Funny Car team went from toast to the toast of the town after overcoming a spectacular engine explosion during qualifying on Friday. The defending champion rallied as if nothing had happened with crew chief Dickie Venables alongside making all the right calls to win the NHRA Circle K Winternationals.
“Friday was unexpected. It caught me off guard,” Matt Hagan said. “It went through the (finish line) lights and banged the blower, threw the rods out of it and the fire just got pretty big pretty quick. The guys put in the work, I think they finished up at 3:30 Saturday morning then got a few hours of sleep and came back Saturday ready to go.

“You try to put it out of your mind and not think about it. These cars are animals out there and you never know what you are going to get when you crawl in there to drive one. It’s always an experience. You have to respect it, but you can’t fear it.”

It was Hagan’s second-straight Pomona win, fourth victory overall at this track and his first Winternationals win. He raced past Tony Pedregon, John Hale and Del Worsham in early rounds before beating Capps in the final after starting in the No. 12 position. He had a winning final-round performance of 4.011 seconds at 320.89 mph to hold off his teammate Ron Capps at the finish line. Capps’ Dodge finished in 4.078 seconds at 314.90 mph.“Pomona is very special to me and it’s an historical track,” said the cattle rancher. “The fans are awesome here. It’s been great. The history of this track and everything that’s happened here through the years, it puts it in perspective for me and makes winning here even more special.”

15WinternationalsMattHaganCelebration PHOTO
Photo Courtesy NHRA

Matt was quick to credit crew chief Venables for staying calm throughout a chaotic weekend. “As soon as Dickie felt comfortable, I felt comfortable,” Matt said. “Dickie is our leader and a great guy. The confidence, the momentum, the mentality trickles down from him and for me. I’m just the cheerleader of the group. I keep everybody positive and happy and even when we’re down you have to keep everybody up. I look to Dickie, into his eyes and what he’s doing. Every lap today it got better and better.”

“It’s crazy how things change so quickly in a couple of days. I didn’t know which sponsor to thank because we were running the Mopar scheme and then had to switch to Rocky Boots but I can’t thank them all enough. Without their support we wouldn’t be out here. That win right there was for Don (Schumacher). We really missed him out here this weekend.”
Team owner, Schumacher was resting at home last weekend while undergoing treatments following a successful surgery to treat Stage 1 Squamous cell carcinoma in November.

15WinternationalsJasonLine
Photo Courtesy NHRA

PRO STOCK

Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro Pro Stock driver Jason Line is particularly fond of Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, and with good reason. This weekend, Line wheeled his brilliant blue Chevrolet Camaro to a very important win for the KB Racing team, earning the Winternationals trophy and scoring the 91st NHRA Pro Stock win for Chevrolet.”Our Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro was just steady the whole time,” said Line. “It was great right from the start. We were both steady. When you can have days like today when the driver and the car are in sync, you get lucky enough to win. Man, to come here and win this feels phenomenal. I’m as happy as I get.”

Line started from the No. 2 position – a spot that he won from twice last season – and had low elapsed time in each round of eliminations. He first took on Joey Grose, who went red by .023 and allowed Line to advance unchallenged on a 6.545-second pass at 212.09 mph. Next up was Shane Gray, and Line was first to launch and first to the stripe in a 6.564 seconds, 211.56 mph to 6.574 seconds, 211 mph victory.It was a great race in the semifinals as Line and opponent Rodger Brogdon illuminated the scoreboards with identical 6.560-second passes at 211 mph, but Line’s .026 to .064 starting line reaction advantage made the difference at the final timing clocks. Line won it on a holeshot to advance to a final-round meeting with young Drew Skillman, a fellow Chevrolet Camaro pilot who was making his Pro Stock debut at the event.

15WinternationalsJasonLineCelebration PHOTO
Photo Courtesy NHRA

Skillman showed prowess throughout eliminations and certainly earned his prestigious position in the lane across from two-time NHRA Pro Stock world champion Line, but the young gun wasn’t going to get the best of Team Summit. Line was out of the gate with a slight advantage and matched his quickest pass of the day with a 6.545 at 211.83 to put Skillman on the trailer without a trophy.Highlighting the celebration in the winner’s circle was the fact that team owners Ken and Judy Black were in attendance to watch Line score his 36th Pro Stock trophy in his 75th final round.”It’s great to get off to a good start. I say it every year – if you want to win all the races, you’ve got to win the first one,” said Line laughingly, who won the Winternationals last year as well. “To be honest, I didn’t think the off-season had gone well enough for us, but apparently it did.

“It feels really great to win, and I’d also like to say congratulations to Drew Skillman for making it to the finals today. I told him he did a great job, and he is going to win a lot of races, no question. I just didn’t want him to win that round. That would make it look too easy, make us old guys look like we don’t know what we’re doing. But obviously, the kid is a great driver, and he’s got great equipment. He did a good job today.”

About Jay Wells 321 Articles
Jay Wells, 61, is a veteran motorsports public relations and marketing official. He spent 33 years at the track working with NASCAR, IndyCar, IMSA, and NHRA series' before retiring in 2009. He began writing for RacingJunk.com in September of 2013 covering the NHRA and NASCAR circuits with post race coverage along with feature and breaking news stories. Wells resides in Mooresville, North Carolina. Follow Wells on Twitter @ jaywells500.
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