November 9, 2017, by Kay Presto, www.carsandcompetition.com —
Who will win the Pro World Championship titles in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series this weekend? The excitement has built to a crescendo, and there are seven race drivers who may be tossing and turning in their sleep tonight, eager to begin the Friday action in the various Pro series.
Those seven drivers met with the media on Thursday at the Wally Parks Auto Museum in Pomona, California to discuss their chances for victory this Sunday in the 53rd Annual Auto Club Finals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.
In that list, Eddie Krawiec, rider of the Screamin’ Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Pro Stock motorcycle, is the exception. His 150 points are so far ahead of his competition that if he just qualifies this weekend, that world title will be his.
With seven wins in fifteen races, he’s had an outstanding performance this year. “I was that guy saying, ‘I really hope the wheels don’t fall off the machine,’ Krawiec said, “because early in the year we got a new chassis, and what came with that was a lot of headaches. We thought we had designed a new and better chassis, and that was going to be what we would be running for the next ten years. It ended up being the worst thing we ever did, we got rid of that chassis, put our old chassis back on our bodywork, and we really haven’t looked back from that.”
At indy, he and his teammate Andrew Hines made identical runs, and were No. Two qualifiers. The team developed a new chassis over last weekend, Hines tested it last Monday, and it ran really well.
After many years of chasing the Funny Car World Championship title, Ron Capps, driver of the NAPA Auto Parts R/T Dodge Charger, finally sealed that deal at Pomona last year, and carried home that Wally he had worked so hard to win for those many years.
Now he and Robert Hight, driver of the Auto Club of Southern California Chevy Camaro Funny Car, are battling it out this year for that treasured trophy, with Hight atop the points, a slim 20 markers over Capps. “It’s been a dream season for me,” he said. “Robert is always a great dynamic, I love racing this guy, and always get up when racing with him.” Capps noted that Jimmy Prock (Hight’s crew chief) and Rahn Tobler (his crew chief) vacation together on an island, but despite that friendship, they are still competitive enough that they each want their team to beat the other, and that will hold strong this weekend.
“If they had told me at the Winternationals early this year at Pomona that I would have a chance at season’s end to win the championship with fifteen points going in, I would have said, ‘sign me up,’ Capps said. “To win eight races this year seems like a lot, but you just don’t know. We had to hang on to our lead through the regular season. I couldn’t ask for a better spot coming in here, and we couldn’t ask for a bigger stage – here at Wally Parks’ dragstrip. We’re going to be pushed to qualify better, and try to keep them from earning points in qualifying. Coming from behind, we have a lot of work cut out for us.”
Hight has also won this championship before, in 2009. “That was a lot different, all I had to do then was qualify; once I did that, it was over,” said Hight. “Like Ron said, it’s been a crazy week-and-a-half since Las Vegas, we had the SEMA Show, but it has been like the slowest week-and-a-half of my life.” Hight has even had strange dreams for the last three nights – competing in the final, with no outcome. “it’s really going to be exciting,” he said. “We really need to focus on winning this race.”
In the Top Fuel ranks, the contest has boiled down to Steve Torrence, campaigning his Capco Tools Top Fuel dragster, and Brittany Force, piloting the Monster Energy Top Fuel machine. The young 2013 Road to the Future Award winner also sits close behind her competitor, in second place by a scant 20 points.
“Being in this position is pretty big, and something that I am pretty proud of,” Brittany said. With her team consultant, Alan Johnson, posting much success here at the Auto Club Speedway, that gives Brittany a good feeling of confidence. “But this is a whole new weekend going in,” she said. “There’s more pressure. There’s something at the end of it all that we are all chasing down, and this is a whole different ballgame. I’m thinking about this Saturday night, where are we going to be on that points ladder? Our team is strong, and Steve’s is, too, but I am really pleased to be where we are this weekend.”
With eight strong wins this year, Torrence still felt he and his team struggled a little bit, but he said that people keep coming up to him, saying they’re cheering for him, expecting him to win, and more.
“I’m just ready to get it going and get it over with,” he said. “The good Lord knows who is going to win the championships in all the classes, so it’s just up to us to ride it out. I’ve won the championship in (Top) Alcohol, I’ve been in this situation before, I’m confident in myself, and we just have to do our job. There is no time better than now.”
At Dallas, his Top Fuel barrel-rolled and had a fiery crash during his run, the team got a new car out of the trailer and made anotherpass. Is he as confident in this car as the one that crashed?” “Yes,” Torrence said. “We tried some things we shouldn’t have tried that Sunday, and it kind of bit us in the second round, and so we put everything back like it was supposed to be, tested on Monday, so I feel that everything is just as good. I’m as confident coming into here as you can be at any race. Sometimes you can try to re-invent the wheel, and it’s not beneficial to you, but I feel very confident in the race car today.”
Torrence added that it’s very gratifying to say that his is an independent family-run race team competing against the top-funded teams in this sport. “We’re at the peak of our sport, and we’re competing for a championship. We’ve shown, not only to ourselves, but everybody, that we’re very competitive. No matter what happens on Sunday, we’ve had an unbelievable season. To accomplish what we have as a family (in a pipeline contracting business), I’m very proud of that.”
Leading the Pro Stock standings is four-time World Champion Greg Anderson, driver of the Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro Pro Stock car. He holds 40 strong points over his competitor Bo Butner, and is looking for another strong showing at the Pomona, California 1000-foot dragstrip. “It’s been a great run, and we have set the table for an all-out effort this weekend,” said Anderson. “We’ve managed to weed out the competition, and Jason Line, Bo Butner and I will go at it this weekend for that title. Jason and Butner have as good equipment as I have in my car, and it’s going to be a ball. There are going to be two people of the three with bruised egos and hard feelings come Sunday night, and I hope that is not me.
“It has been so much fun, and this KB race team has so much depth. We didn’t necessarily out-power anybody to the Countdown, but we have a well-rounded team, and great drivers to complete against, so I hope to lock it in.”Anderson has six wins at the Pomona, California dragstrip.
Bo Butner will be campaigning his Bandit livery on his Jim Butner’s Auto Chevrolet Pro Stock mount this weekend. “That design is too cool to take off the car,” he said, “so we will definitely be running it. It’s been a good year for us, we’re happy, and I just can’t say enough for J.D.? and my guys. “They give me the absolute best car, and I’ve had many chances to turn the Win lights on, so I can’t wait to get started. The three cars – it’s going to be fun this week. If I have to run against Greg Anderson, I will want to qualify against him first time, and get it over with, but with the points system like it is, you can’t give up any points.” Butner has had four victories this year.
“I’m having a good time; that is what I race for,” he stated. “It’s not nerve-wracking to me. Just to be able to say that I can compete in Pro Stock, it’s like a dream come true for a Stock racer.”