Twenty-three races stretching 273 days and encompassing hundreds of launches form a standing start on a narrow 1,000-foot proving ground have been a prologue for the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) championship-deciding season finale.
Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California, hosted the first race of the season in February – where 2017 Chevrolet champions Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Bo Butner (Pro Stock) were feted again before the rigorous campaign commenced.
This weekend, the racetrack 30 miles east of Los Angeles will host the Auto Club NHRA Finals, and Hight and sophomore Chevrolet driver Ta[nner Gray aim to wrap up titles in their respective professional categories in the last of six races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
The event features a points-and-a-half format, so each elimination round will be accentuated.
Hight, driver of the Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS, enters the event second in the Funny Car standings as he seeks to become the first Funny Car repeat champion since teammate John Force in 2001-02. Hight has posted four victories, including two in the Countdown, and three runner-up finishes this season.
“We are behind but we are going to go in there very aggressive and try to gobble up every point we can get,” said Hight, who has four career wins at the racetrack.
“All we can do is what we can do. We’ve already won both AAA races this year and we need to win the third. That’s going to give us the best possible chance to win two championships in a row.”
Gray, 19, is seeking to follow up his 2017 NHRA rookie of the year season with being crowned the youngest pro champion in NHRA history.
The Pro Stock front-runner has won a class-high seven races in 10 final-round appearances driving the Gray Motorsports/Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro SS and holds a 140-point advantage over five-time class champion Jeg Coughlin Jr.
“It’s the only goal I have,” Gray said. “One of the things that’s helped for the success this year is everyone having the same mindset and same goal. We’ve been able to click, and for the most part it’s been a really smooth season for us. I’ve learned from all the mistakes I made last year and I knew what to expect going into the Countdown this year. It’s made everything a lot smoother.”
Chevrolet and Chevrolet driver numbers to note entering the season finale:
*133 – Chevrolet Funny Car wins since 1967, including 53 in Camaro body
*301 – Chevrolet Pro Stock wins since 1970
*149 – career Funny Car wins by John Force
*251 – final rounds for John Force (last Denver ‘18, winner)
*459 – 20th all-time round wins (Robert Hight has 456)
*11 – most single-season No. 1 qualifiers by a female (Courtney Force ‘18) in all classes
*1,310 – John Force round wins
*45 – Robert Hight wins; third all time in Funny Car
*60 – No. 1 qualifiers for Robert Hight. Eighth all time (Cruz Pedregon with 61)
*200 – Courtney Force has 198 Funny Car round wins
*800 – Greg Anderson has 798 Pro Stock round wins
*102 – No. 1 qualifiers for Greg Anderson (tied for third all time with Bob Glidden)
*650 – Jeg Coughlin Jr. has 641 Pro Stock round wins
Earlier this week at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Justin Lamb claimed his second consecutive championship driving his 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt. At the same divisional event, Brian McLanahan clinched the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Stock Eliminator title in his 1969 Chevrolet Camaro.
This weekend, Lamb is entered in Stock Eliminator competition in his Chevrolet COPO Camaro.
Also driving their COPO Camaros are Jeff Taylor of Sellersburg, Indiana, the runner-up in the last race; Dan Fletcher of Churchville, New York; Marion Stephenson of Williamsport, Indiana; Al Corda of Elk Mound, Wisconsin; Ryan Priddy of Chino, California; Tim Seymour of San Dimas, California; and Tommy Gaynor of Vancouver, Washington.
The host state will be represented in Super Stock competition by Tom Ferruggia of Menifee and Lane Goldstein of Calabasas driving their COPO Camaros.
The expansive Chevrolet Performance display in the paddock will feature a variety of Chevrolet production vehicles, including a 2018 Corvette Stingray Coupe, 2018 Camaro Hot Wheels Edition convertible, 2018 Silverado 2WD Short Box Crew Cab, and a 2018 Malibu Redline Edition. Also on display throughout the weekend will be a John Force Racing Funny Car, Chevrolet accessories, and crate engines.
FS1 will telecast live eliminations and finals, plus a three-hour post-race show, Nov. 11 from Auto Club Raceway starting at 4 p.m. ET.
CHEVROLET FROM THE COCKPIT
BRITTANY FORCE, JOHN FORCE RACING, ADVANCE AUTO PARTS/MONSTER ENERGY CHEVROLET DRAGSTER (reigning class champion, claiming title with win in finale; fifth in points): “We are heading into Pomona for the last race of the season, it’s the Auto Club Finals and this is where we locked in the championship last year. We made some history here last year and this is a big race for us. This track has a special place in my heart. It has always been my home track and I grew up at that racetrack. I have so many memories at this track and I honestly never thought I would be able to call myself a world champion but that is another memory to add to it. Nothing can ever top what we did at the Auto club Finals last year. Going into this race we are currently No. 5 in the points and we are looking to move up as high as we can. We don’t have a shot at the title, but we want to win this last race. We got three hats last year. We were No. 1 qualifier, won the race and won the championship to get the green, yellow and white hats. This year we want to end on a great note and wind up in the winner’s circle for all our great sponsors.”
ROBERT HIGHT, JOHN FORCE RACING, AUTO CLUB OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA CHEVROLET CAMARO SS (winner of two races in the Countdown and four overall this season; second in points): “At the beginning of the year, all you can do is hope to be in this position. Up until these last few years, we went through a period where we were going to Vegas and Pomona without a chance to win a title and that’s tough. I think that makes you appreciate the team you have and everything we have going on this year. We all know what we have to do. Fans love the thought of the championship going down to the last race and that gets me pumped up.”
COURTNEY FORCE, JOHN FORCE RACING, ADVANCE AUTO PARTS CHEVROLET CAMARO SS (11-time No. 1 qualifier and four-time winner; sixth in points): “Our Advance Auto Parts team is really excited to close out the season at my home track in Pomona. This is a track where the past two seasons I have raced to the semifinals and we have had a lot of luck at this track. I went to the finals at Auto Club Raceway in 2013 after my rookie season. I love being at this track. Our Chevrolet Camaro Funny Car has run really well here. It is fun to be racing in front of the home track fans with a lot of family here. We started the season here on a rough note, but I am looking forward to putting that behind us and closing out the season on a high note. My team has had an incredible season we are looking to wrap up the season with one more win.”
JOHN FORCE, JOHN FORCE RACING, CHEVROLET ACCESSORIES PEAK CHEVROLET CAMARO SS (has 1,310 round wins and 149 class victories, including eight in the fall race at the track; ninth in points): “My job now is to take out as many as I can and help Robert (Hight) get the championship for John Force Racing, Auto Club, PEAK, Advance Auto, Chevrolet and the rest of our sponsors. We’ve got a pretty good hot rod right now. It’s not the quickest but it’ll go down through there and, early in the year, it wouldn’t do that but we battled back.”
TANNER GRAY, GRAY MOTORSPORTS, VALVOLINE GRAY MOTORSPORTS CHEVROLET CAMARO SS (seven-time winner and three-time runner-up this season; first in points): “We want to finish this season strong, with consistent runs in qualifying and on race day. That includes me not making any mistakes. We have to make sure we stay aggressive and consistent, and we just have to continue to put ourselves in a good position to win.”
JEG COUGHLIN JR., ELITE MOTORSPORTS, JEGS.COM/ELITE PERFORMANCE CHEVROLET CAMARO SS (three-time winner and five-time No. 1 qualifier this season; second in points): “Pomona is going to be an important race for us as a team. It’s a big positioning race for us to figure out really who will finish two through seven. It’s very open right now. Not only do we want to qualify well and win four rounds on Sunday, we would like to finish as high as No. 2 in the points standings. But even though we’re there going in, it’s going to be a fight to stay there. We are just going to focus on that.”
DREW SKILLMAN, RAY SKILLMAN MOTORSPORTS, RAY SKILLMAN AUTO GROUP CHEVROLET CAMARO SS (runner-up in two of past four races; holds track Pro Stock speed record, set in 2015; fourth in points):“It would be great to close out the season with a win. We’ve been competitive and had two runner-up finishes, but that Wally has eluded us so far. We’ll seek to make consistent runs in qualifying and on race day and see what happens.”
VINCENT NOBILE, MOUNTAIN VIEW RACING, MOUNTAIN VIEW TIRE CHEVROLET CAMARO SS (three-time winner; fifth in points): “We’ve gotten three wins this year and it would be great to wrap up the season with a fourth Wally. The Mountain View crew has done a fantastic job every race and they deserve the credit – along with the Elite Motorsports team — for the success we’ve had. We’re looking forward to close strong this race weekend.”
JASON LINE, KB RACING, SUMMIT RACING EQUIPMENT CHEVROLET CAMARO SS (runner-up in winter race at track; has 99 Pro Stock final-round appearances; seventh in points): “I’m excited to get to Pomona. My Summit Racing Chevy Camaro has been a good car these last few races, and to have two consecutive wins for KB Racing heading into this last race is a good feeling. You certainly want to finish the year strong, and we have an opportunity to do that.”
GREG ANDERSON, KB RACING, SUMMIT RACING EQUIPMENT CHEVROLET CAMARO SS (No. 1 qualifier nine times this season; five-time winner in the fall race at the track; seventh in points): “I left Las Vegas two weeks ago feeling disappointed about the performance of my car there, but we’ve had time to go over what we did there and where we might have gone wrong. The weekend started off great out there, but it went downhill for me after that – and that is not something we want to see happen this weekend at the NHRA Finals. Our goal is to leave Pomona on a high note. The last race of the year is followed by a long winter where you don’t see a racetrack for three months. It’s important to have a smile on your face when you leave Auto Club Raceway to get you through the winter. We plan to work hard and focus in that off-time, and how you end the season could very well set the tone. We know we can do well there. We’ve got the equipment, we’ve got the power, we’ve got the team. We just have to do everything right to give ourselves a chance.”
BO BUTNER, KB RACING, JIM BUTNER AUTO GROUP CHEVROLET CAMARO SS (reigning class champion; winner of season opener at the track and Las Vegas2; eighth in points): “I’m looking forward to my last Pro Stock race in Pomona. I’m happy we got to win again because this Pro Stock deal is amazing. Any of the top 12 qualifiers can win. It’s just tough, and the competition is great. That’s what brought me to this class. I’m living the dream of every Sportsman racer, starting at the bottom and now being able to compete and run with these guys. I’d like to say thank you to everybody. This was a great victory, but I’m still going to Pomona to try to win that race.”
Inside Track Communications