Opening weekend of the 2018 NHRA season was anything but dull as a once dominating Force was left hanging by a thread, while two teams climbed back to the top of the pack and a 2017 NHRA World Champion returned to his winning ways.
The first team to find their way back to the top was Kalitta Motorsports. After qualifying fifth at this weekend’s 58th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals, the Ypsilanti, Michigan mega-team’s primary driver took down teammate Richie Crampton, top qualifier Clay Millican and Richie Crampton before taking on eight-time NHRA champion Tony Schumacher in Sunday’s final round.
Although Schumacher put up quite a fight, Kalitta earned his first podium finish of the season and his second season-opening event victory of his career following his run of 3.779-seconds at 324.28 MPH in his MAC Tools dragster.
“I tip my hat to my guys because I could not do it without them,” said Kalitta. “I am really proud of my crew chief Jim Oberhofer, who I feel has put together a team that is prepared for a successful season.”
While Kalitta climbed his way back to the top of the NHRA charts at the start of the 2018 season, the reigning NHRA Top Fuel champion found her 2018 season starting out a bit rockier. During her first-round elimination run against Terry Haddock, Brittany Force’s 11,000 HP dragster veered right just off the start, shot to the left — crossing in front of Haddock — and slammed into the left wall. After spinning with its tangled parachute and slamming backward into the right wall, her Force Racing dragster was engulfed in flames.
Following this scary crash, the 31-year-old daughter of John Force, who experienced his own frightening start to his 2018 season, was transported to a local hospital for evaluation. Fortunately, Force reported from her hospital bed hours later that she sustained only bumps and bruises.
“It was a rough start to our season, but I am happy to be checking in with only bumps and bruises,” said Force. “Thanks go out to our NHRA family and friends for all of the prayers as well as Simpson and Steilo for their safety equipment.”
Read More: Not a Full Force Weekend
For the second time in two years, Matt Hagan also re-entered the Funny Car Winner’s Circle at the opening season Winternationals after qualifying on the top and taking down Jim Campbell, Cruz Pedregon and former Funny Car champion Ron Capps before taking on defending world champion Robert Hight.
With a 3.823-second pass at 335.90 MPH in his Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T Hagan increased his NHRA win total to 27 victories.
“Starting the year on a positive note is good for our team as we set our goals for a championship this season,” said Hagan. “Everything was clicking this weekend, including the parts and pieces as well as the right guys in place to use these to bring us our first win.”
While this Don Schumacher Racing driver and his team had reason to celebrate, one of the most legendary Funny Car victors saw his hopes for a successful start to a 2018 season go up in smoke on the season’s opening day.
Despite John Force Racing’s patriarch successful first-pass at Auto Club Raceway on Friday, his second ended against the left lane wall and wound up in a massive engine explosion at the 800-foot mark.
Much like his daughter, John also walked away with minor injuries and was able to return to the track by Friday evening.
Despite his fellow 2017 NHRA World Champions difficult start, the defending Pro Stock champion was back on top at the 2018 season opener. After entering Sunday sixth in the qualifying lineup, Bo Butner took down teammate Greg Anderson, Tanner Gray and Erica Enders before taking on yet another teammate, Jason Line, in Sunday’s final elimination round.
After driving to a 6.549-second pass at 209.62 MPH in his Jim Butner’s Auto Chevy Camaro Bo Butner locked in his sixth career victory as he began a convincing start to yet another Pro Stock World Championship this season.
“Both my crew and car were riding smooth all weekend, and we hope to keep riding this wave to another successful season,” said Butner. “I have all the confidence in my crew to make this happen.
The 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season continues with the NHRA Arizona Nationals (Feb. 23-25) at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. Stay tuned to RacingJunk.com for all your NHRA coverage!