November 12, 2017, by Kay Presto, www.carsandcompetition.com —
With a resounding run in the second round of eliminations at the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship, Brittany Force became only the second woman in NHRA history to win a Top Fuel World Championship; Shirley Muldowney was the first. With a low E.T. of 3.667 in the second elimination round in her Monster Energy dragster, Force downed Terry Haddock, and world champion Antron Brown took down Steve Torrence, guaranteeing her enough points and cementing Brittany’s name forever in the NHRA history books.
As she received her championship jacket, her father, 16-time Funny Car champion John Force, speechless and in tears, kneeled down on the tarmac.
“I can’t believe I’m here,” said a breathless Brittany as she received her championship medallion. “It’s a dream; this is huge! Coming into this weekend, I felt we could accomplish this, but we struggled. We had our ups and downs, but we pulled together.” She gave tribute to her parents, her entire team, including the team’s tuning consultant Alan Johnson. “They’re the ones who made this possible. They never gave up on me; they always had my back. Today is pretty great; things have definitely come back full circle.”
She also thanked John Force again. “He’s the one who gave me this opportunity,” she said. “He taught me everything I know.”
The second round of Funny Car eliminations posted a second victory for John Force Racing. After a week of frustration, Robert Hight, who campaigns the AAA of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro, was still not qualified on Saturday morning. In Saturday’s second elimination round, he made it into the 15th spot on the grid. But the road to that championship was not easy. Robert Hight powered his Funny Car down the Pomona dragstrip to beat Matt Hagan, giving him enough points to win, and the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car World Championship title belonged to Hight. He earned his first world championship in 2009.
After receiving his championship jacket, Hight showed his intense emotion. “24 hours ago I wasn’t even qualified for this event; it was a long time to wait,” he stated. “I didn’t sleep a wink last night; I just didn’t want to go out there today and give it away. Once I got that win this morning, it seemed like an hour before Ron Capps ran.”
Capps was also battling for the championship, which would have been his second. Describing his car’s unsuccessful run against Del Worsham in that round, 2016 world champion Capps said, “It rattled, and I saw Worsham back there. It (the title) wasn’t meant to be, but It’s been a great season.’”
The excitement still wasn’t over for John Force Racing, as Hight’s Camaro, competing against teammate Courtney Force in the semi-final, suffered an explosion after the finish line, forcing it into the left-side wall. The car’s chutes blossomed too late to prevent it from going all the way to the first net in the sand-trap.
With NHRA rules allowing that a team can use a back-up car when the primary car suffers extensive damage, the team went into immediate action to rescue Hight’s car. Brittany had been testing a Funny Car at three different dragstrips. To Hight’s good fortune, the JFR team would have that Funny Car body ready for Hight to enter Sunday’s final elimination round against Tommy Johnson, Jr.
“When that thing blew up in the lights, it made a hard right turn. I could not keep it from going toward the wall,” said Hight, who was uninjured. ”The body tilted up on it, and I couldn’t reach the chutes. We have another body back there; we are going to try to fix it. This weekend has been unbelievable, but we’re going to try to end this weekend on an even more unbelievable note.”
In the Pro Stock semi-final, current champion Jason Line red-lit against teenage Tanner Gray, and Bo Butner took down Greg Anderson, so it would be a wily veteran against a very talented teen in that final. When Gray’s car stumbled during the final run, Bo Butner, out of KB Racing, had out-raced both teammates Anderson and Line to take his first NHRA Pro Stock World Championship.
“This is amazing; the good Lord blessed me all the day long,” said Butner. “Tanner is also amazing, and KB Racing has given me the best of everything; they never quit on me.”
It looked like Eddie Krawiec, who clinched the 2017 NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle World Championship on Saturday, would be a shoo-in for victory in the final, but he was out-run by teammate Andrew Hines — himself a five-time Pro Stock Motorcycle World Champion — despite Hines’ malfunctioning clutch during that pass. “When we get back to the shop and take my bike apart, I bet we’ll find a broken clutch,” Hines said.
In the Funny Car final — with both cars repaired from their excursions into the sand pits – Tommy Johnson, Jr. captured that win in his Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T, with a 3.920, 329.10 mph pass as Hight’s Camaro struggled down the track. Johnson, Jr. had defeated Bob Bode, the retiring Alexis DeJoria, and Jack Beckman to get to that final round. After his victory, Johnson gave credit to his car’s deceased sponsor, Terry Chandler. “I never would have been here today if it hadn’t been for Terry,” he said. “After five years, she brought me back into racing and gave me this ride.”
With the championship already under her belt, Brittany Force wrapped up her Top Fuel season in fine fashion when she won the final round against Shawn Langdon, in his last Top Fuel event. He will be switching to the Funny Car class in 2018. As his dragster fell behind, Force drove to an incredible winning pass of 3.668, 330.07 miles per hour.