The moment that Ron Capps had been waiting on for 20 years finally came true as he won his first NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car World championship at the AAA NHRA Finals at Pomona Raceway. His Don Schumacher Racing teammate, Tommy Johnson, Jr., won his first Pomona Fall Funny Car race and his third of the year on Sunday.
Doug Kalitta rocketed off the starting line against his Kalitta Racing teammate, J.R. Todd to end his season with a Pomona Top Fuel win on a hole-shot. Antron Brown had already claimed his third Top Fuel championship in Las Vegas two weeks ago.
Jason Line won the Pro Stock championship over race winner Greg Anderson, and in the Pro Stock Motorcycle, Jerry Savoie outlasted the Harley-Davidsons of Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec to take his first two-wheel championship Wally back to Louisiana’s Cajun country.
The Kalitta Racing Mac Tools Top Fuel team of Doug Kalitta ran the table at Pomona against his teammate J.R. Todd in the final round to collect his fourth win of 2016 and 42nd of his career. What was so impressive about his victory was his reacting first and then holding off a much quicker Todd.
He used a time of 3.745 seconds at a speed of 326.63 mph to take down Todd’s quicker pass of 3.704 seconds, 327.90 mph. He sprinted past Shawn Reed, eight-time world champ Tony Schumacher and Shawn Landon in the earlier rounds. The win moved him to second in points, where he will finish for the fourth time in his career.
“I am so proud to drive this Mac Tools dragster,” said Kalitta, the nephew of drag racing legend Connie Kalitta. “I have a heck of a group: Jim O (Oberhofer), Troy (Fasching)… this entire team is awesome. The guys worked so hard, and to close the season with a win is great. This is a trophy I have been chasing for a long time, and I am so glad to earn it. I am a winner until the Winternationals and I am so excited to close the season on a high note.”
“The history was here, for me, growing up watching Connie race over the years, and to be able to win today was huge for me and for everybody on the team. It was very cool that [J.R. Todd] and I were both in the final and got to run for the money there. It will be good momentum for all of our teams that we finished off the season with some good runs.”
Ron Capps celebrated on Saturday, making his first Funny Car championship official. He was eliminated in the second round on Sunday against John Force; his coronation on Monday night is set to begin in Hollywood.
“We really wanted to leave Pomona with two trophies, but we’re not going to be greedy,” said Capps, who finished the year with a category-best five titles that pushed his career total to 50, including one in Top Fuel.
“Yesterday took so much out of our whole team, and it shows how good Tobler and the guys are that we came out today and ran that good against Force. Losing early didn’t take anything away from what our NAPA team accomplished all season.
“I’m sure there will be some celebrating tonight and tomorrow at the NHRA awards banquet in Hollywood. I can’t wait to bring our team up on the stage and share that moment with them. And I’ll finally be standing all the way to the right when the top-10 is introduced.”
For Capps’ crew chief, Rahn Tobler, it is his fourth world championship as crew chief and first with DSR; he won two with Shirley Muldowney in Top Fuel and one with Cruz Pedregon in Funny Car.
“I can’t even tell you how focused Rahn Tobler has been this year,” said Capps, who was the series runner-up in 1998, 2000, 2005 and 2012. “I almost gave up trying so hard and wishing so hard, and just focused on winning races. With everything we got this year – my 50th career win, passing some people I really looked up to in the sport with wins – that’s mind-boggling for me.”
Capps won his first championship officially by 52 points over Pomona winner Tommy Johnson, Jr.
It was Johnson who was the Funny Car DSR star on Sunday, matching 16-time champ John Force in the finals with an identical elapsed time of 3.918 seconds to squeeze by Force for his third win of the season and 15th of his career. The margin of victory was based on reaction time, with Johnson having five-thousandths of a second in the bank in a great side-by-side finale.
“It’s so tough out here that if you can finish second out of all these cars, you had a really, really good year,” said Johnson. “We weren’t the best; obviously that was Capps this season; but to be right behind him and be ahead of all the others, I don’t know how you could be disappointed.
“I’ve always wanted to win this race. Won the Winternationals (season-opener), but never won the Finals. You have two and a half months to celebrate this and you want to end on a high note because it sets the tone for the off-season. Just a great day. Just a great year for not only our team but for all the DSR Funny Car teams.”
Johnson’s victory pushed the DSR total to 293 including 14 in 24 events this year; that is one short of tying the DSR record a year ago for Funny Cars.
Johnson marched through eliminations, taking down Dave Richards and the John Force Racing contingent of Robert Hight, Courtney Force and dad John in the finals.
Jason Line clinched his third Pro Stock world championship after he raced to his 14th final round this season, although he lost the race to his KB Racing teammate Greg Anderson. By just winning the semifinal round, he put the points out of reach for second-place Anderson.
“It’s been a great year, and thanks to all of our competitors; they kept us honest and made us work hard right to the end,” said Line, who also won the world title in 2006 and 2011. “I have to thank all the Summit guys, Ken Black and all of them. It has been an incredible season and I can’t believe I didn’t actually mess it up. It is such an honor to be up here. We have had a great car all year. Greg [Anderson] and I have had probably the two best cars all year. If it had ended any other way, I would have been disappointed.”
Line and Anderson dominated the first year of the redesigned Pro Stock class, which featured electronic fuel injection, 10,500 rev-limiters, shortened wheelie bars and flat hoods. Line and Anderson for KB Racing finished the season with eight wins in 14 final-round appearances. Line led the points at 22 of 24 events and notched a career-high 65 round wins over the course of the year.
Anderson was able to beat his Chevy Pro Stock Summit teammate Line on a hole-shot in the final round on Sunday by powering to a pass of 6.580 seconds at 210.24 mph, bettering Line’s 6.570-second run at 211.43 mph. It was Anderson’s eighth win of the season, 86th of his career and sixth at the Auto Club NHRA Finals. He finished the season second in points, just three points shy of the title.
“Great day; I can’t cry,” said Anderson. “I did all I could do today; I did everything I could possibly do today. The only thing I can kick stones about is that I didn’t do a great job on qualifying on Friday. I lost three points to Jason and those three points are a big three points. You do the best you can and sometimes you make a mistake, and I did on Friday and it cost me, and that was the decider. Still a great fight. Great fight all year. We had some great battles. During the last half of the year the rest of the class got in and we had some great battles with them. We overachieved this year and we’re leaving here happy.”
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
Victory Motorcycle received their first win as a manufacturer in the Pro Stock Motorcycle division when Matt Smith rode to victory in 8.044 seconds, beating a red-lighting Angelle Sampey in Sunday’s AAA NHRA Finals at Pomona Raceway.
Smith claimed his first win since 2013 with the performance. The victory moved him to sixth in the points standings. Knowing he had the race in the bag, he pulled in the clutch and pumped his fist in the air as he went down the track.
“You don’t realize how much you miss being in victory lane until you get back to victory lane,” a smiling Smith said after taking his 18th career win. “To get a victory for Victory – I like that saying. I hope that we can do it more next year. I know we are going to have some teammates with Victory next year, and I’m just glad we got to do it first.
“We haven’t had the best season in the world. We’ve had a fast bike but we’ve had a lot of electrical problems and transmission issues. We finally solved that about four races ago, and it was good for us to run as good as we have. It struggled in qualifying but it came around today. To give Victory their first win is huge. I’m so glad I was able to get it done for them. We have big plans for next year and hopefully you’ll see us a lot more next year.”
In the Pro Stock Motorcycle championship, Jerry Savoie earned his first career world championship after he advanced to the semifinals, while his nearest contenders, Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines, were knocked out in the quarterfinals. Savoie, a Louisiana alligator farmer, never led the points standings until he secured the title.
“To only dream of winning one race, and to come out here and put a deal together with the support of Vance & Hines and my crew and to win the championship is amazing,” said Savoie, who won two races and notched four runner-ups this season. “I went to church this morning, and the word was encouragement and to get encouraged from the people that inspire you. I want to thank everybody, especially the fans. Without these guys, this would not be possible; you make our dreams come true, and those guys are my family.”
Sunday, Smith had an eventful day beating Hector Arana Sr., Eddie Krawiec and Hector Arana, Jr. before meeting Sampey in the finals.
“I’m glad this season is over, even though the last two races we turned the corner and started running well with the bike; I just wish it had been 14 races earlier. But you can’t change the past; all you can do is regroup for the future,” he said.
It’s just now 90 days before the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello season starts on Sunday, Feb. 12, at the AAA Raceway at Pomona.