You could feel the excitement building up to this year’s 56th annual Circle K Winternationals at the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. Besides the great sunny weather and a capacity crowd, this season is bringing with it a new TV package with FOX Sports, giving the sport of drag racing an all-time important optimism that hasn’t been felt in years.
The race saw some familiar faces in the winner’s circle with Steve Torrence kicking off the Top Fuel season with a win. Ron Capps was smiling all the way to the winner’s circle, adding to his impressive win list in the Funny Car category and Greg Anderson led the pack in the all KB Racing Pro Stock finals against his teammate on this Valentine’s Day Sunday.
It was a Texas-sized celebration for Steve Torrence at a track on which he has had little previous success. Torrence ended up winning the Winternationals on Sunday for the sixth victory of his professional career, dedicating the win to his mom and girlfriend from Sunday’s Valentine’s Day victory podium at Pomona.
Torrence started the race from the No. 1 spot, setting a personal best time of 3.703 seconds in qualifying, his sixth pole of his career, taking down Steve Faria, Morgan Lucas, and Richie Crampton is a close race in the semi-finals.
It was in the championship round against Doug Kalitta that gave the Capco driver a winning margin of .004 of a second by outdistancing his opponent with a time of 3.735 seconds, 326.48 mph to Kalitta’s time of 3.753 seconds, 324.36 mph narrowly taking the win.
It marked the first time that Torrence’s mom, Kay, was at a race that he won and on this Valentine’s Day couldn’t imagine a better gift than a Pomona ‘Wally’ for his sweethearts.
As the winner of the race, Torrence is now the current Top Fuel points leader for the first time in his career leading Kalitta by 32 points with the next race in two weeks in Phoenix.
“My guys worked their butts off all winter to get us ready and all weekend they were perfect,” Torrence said driving a newly engineered Morgan Lucas Racing chassis. “I just tried to do my job and not screw it up. They deserve all the credit but I’ll tell you, it was a good weekend to be Steve Torrence and a great way to start our new marketing relationship with Rio Ammunition.”
The 2005 Alcohol Dragster World champion also gave credit to his crew chief, Richard Hogan, car chief Bobby Lagana and their performance consultant, Alan Johnson on winning in their 2016 initial outing. Under bright sunny California skies, it was their job to negotiate Torrence through the Top Fuel maize and onto victory.
“Alan and Richard have worked really well together,” said Torrence. “Alan is that thorn who keeps poking Richard to tune it just a little bit farther. It feels good. I wish the season was over already. We are going to do what we can to keep the momentum going and go on to Phoenix and try to write a story just like this one.”
When asked about his new informal alliance he has with the team of rival Brittany Force, for whom Alan Johnson is also a consultant.
“Anytime you can go to a track and get twice as much data, that’s a big advantage,” said the 32-year old Torrence. “Especially when you’re racing against all these multi-car teams. I think sharing data with Brittany is going to mutually beneficial.”
In the 2016 version of legendary Southern California Funny Car drag racers that are quickly becoming household names like their predecessors before them of Don Prudhomme and Kenny Bernstein, Ron Capps of nearby Vista squared off with defending Funny Car champ, Del Worsham of Chino Hills in the finals of Sunday’s Valentine’s Day Circle K Winternationals at Pomona Raceway.
Cruising in his NAPA Dodge to his 45th career victory on his own driving ability, Capps mastered the 1,000 feet distance in the finals. He won with a slower time, but better reaction driving to 3.981 seconds, 324.28 mph in winning on the slightest of hole shots, beating Worsham at the line by .0008–ten thousandths of a second (5 inches) to Worsham’s time of 3.962 seconds, 324.36 mph.
Capps grabbed the No. 2 starting position and was consistent all weekend, putting together a string of seven of their eight runs in the 3-second zone including all four in qualifying.
“I have the best team in the business, and they gave me a great racecar,” said a grinning Capps in the press box. “All four runs in the 3s in qualifying, I don’t think anyone else did that. I knew we had a good race car. Tobler and I have grown so much together. It’s like a marriage. He really keeps me in line on race day. We had a heckuva day. This is the most fabled track we go to and it’s the birthplace of drag racing; it is unbelievable to win here.”
He marched through eliminations defeating Jeff Diehl, Chad Head, and had to escape the strong run of Robert Hight’s Chevy in a tight race of 3.938 seconds to a time of 3.949 seconds to avoid getting beat in the semi-finals.
Capps wasn’t the only one in the NAPA camp with something to say on this Sunday. As a tremendous NASCAR fan he discovered, his NAPA teammate over there, Chase Elliott, now the driver of the famed No. 24 Chevrolet, had won the pole position for next weekend’s Daytona 500. That was all the inspiration Capps needed to get his crew chief, Rahn Tobler, his 50th win behind the wrenches grabbing his own headlines on the opposite coast taking drag racing’s season opener.
In the most anticipated professional category to be witnessed in the season opening Circle K Winternationals, the Pro Stock division didn’t disappoint, seeing KB Racing’s Greg Anderson capturing the historic first win of the electronic fuel injection (EFI) era of the NHRA’s new look and approach to an otherwise named category as the ‘Factory Hot Rods’.
Anderson led the way from start to finish, taking the No. 1 low ET qualifier with a run of 6.585 seconds, which led to him defeating Matt Hartford, a red-lighting Jeg Coughlin and Drew Skillman before looking across the lane only to find his own KB Racing teammate Jason Line against him in the finals. It signified the 25th time the Summit Racing teammates have met in the final round of competition, marking Anderson’s 79th overall Pro Stock win.
On this day, it was Anderson scoring the win on a holeshot against Line’s time of 6.609 seconds to Anderson’s 6.617 pass with a margin of victory of only .0101 of a second earning KB Racing’s third consecutive Winternationals win.
“It feels awesome,” said Anderson, who recorded his sixth career victory at Auto Club Raceway. “It was a fantastic team effort. Things just went so well all weekend and I felt so confident all day until the final round. I felt like the underdog there in the final. Apparently, it was my day; the sun is shining on me.
“Everybody is on a steep learning curve right now and we got the jump on everybody, but I can guarantee that all the competitors in our class are not happy. They are going home and going to work hard, and it will be a new ballgame at Phoenix. We’re also going to have to buckle down and find something better again. That’s the beauty of a new challenge. There is room to grow.”
The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series continues Feb. 26-28 at the CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park near Phoenix.