GLENDORA, Calif. – A wild championship race in Pro Stock Motorcycle during the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship comes down to this weekend’s 54th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, as a whopping six competitors still remain in contention to win a world title. With the points lead changing hands at the first four races and plenty of thrilling action along the way, it’s the perfect way to finish off a playoff race that has been filled with drama.
With two playoff wins, Matt Smith currently holds a slim four-point lead against defending world champion Eddie Krawiec. LE Tonglet and Hector Arana Jr. sit 61 and 64 points back, respectively, while Jerry Savoie (101 points back) and Andrew Hines (113 points back) are still mathematically alive for a title, setting up an unforgettable finish in Pomona. For Smith, who is seeking his third NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world title, he’s simply looking forward to a big weekend.
“It’s very exciting for us, the fans and our class in general, and it’s going to be a battle,” said Smith, who celebrates his 36th birthday on Sunday. “Hopefully we can do our job and come out on top in the end, but a race like this, I think it speaks well for our class. We’ve run 15 races and somehow only four points separate Eddie and me. It’s going to be fun and hopefully we can put it all together and do our job. We’re focused on trying to win the race and if we do that we win the title.”
Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car), Bo Butner (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the race that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including live finals coverage starting at 4:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday. The race is the final event of the year and the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, and the weekend will be brimming with thrilling storylines in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Smith, Tonglet and Arana Jr. all have playoff wins, and Krawiec would like to join that club this weekend to clinch his fifth world title.
He was the regular season points leader and held the points lead after the playoff opener, but Krawiec has had to make up ground in recent weeks. He’s done that on his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson to close in on Smith heading to Pomona. With four career wins at Pomona and a penchant for racing even better in the spotlight, Krawiec, who has four wins in 2018 and 47 for his career, insists he’s ready to put together a memorable weekend to end the year.
“If we go there win the race, we win the championship, but that’s easier said than done,” Krawiec said. “But we’re in a good position and I feel like I perform better under pressure. I know what’s expected and I need to perform. It’s a unique battle in the class this year, but anytime you go into Pomona with a chance to win a championship, it’s been a good year. We’re right in the mix so there’s no need to change anything.”
Arana Jr. jumped back into the conversation with his win in Vegas, while Tonglet bumped Smith from the top spot after his victory in Dallas. That was short-lived after Smith moved back in the points lead for a second time in the playoffs with his Charlotte win, further exemplifying that anything could happen this weekend. Smith was in that high-pressure situation when he won his first title in 2007, beating Chip Ellis in the final round at Pomona to claim the title. If that scenario presents itself again, Smith said he will be ready on his Elite Motorsports Denso Auto Parts EBR.
“I know for the fans they like it when it comes down to the wire and I do really well under pressure,” said Smith, who has 21 career wins. “There’s a lot of pressure in everything we do, but my biggest thing is I just focus on myself. I don’t worry about the other lane. A lot of people can get tied up in the spotlight, but I don’t worry about that. I’m going to go out there focused on what I need to do.”
On the strength of five straight wins in the Countdown to the Championship, Steve Torrence claimed the Top Fuel world title in Vegas, and he’ll look to sweep the playoffs in Pomona.
With a win in Vegas, Funny Car’s J.R. Todd takes a 74-point lead into Pomona over defending world champ Robert Hight as Todd seeks his first career world title.
Second-year Pro Stock star Tanner Gray has seven wins in 2018, including two in the playoffs, and currently holds a 140-point lead over Jeg Coughlin Jr.The Auto Club NHRA Finals will also feature thrilling competition in the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where the future stars of the sport earn their racing stripes. After Nitro qualifying, stick around to see the spectacular Cacklefests during the weekend.
Those in attendance will also have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with some of the biggest names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This includes meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend the Auto Club NHRA Finals include Kenny Bernstein, Greg Sharp and more.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 12:45 p.m. and 3:15 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 9, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Nov. 10, at 12:00 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 11.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 800-644-4444. Tickets also are available online at www.NHRA.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. All students can save 50 percent on general admission at the gate with a student ID. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.
AUTO CLUB NHRA FINALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: 54th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals, the final of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the final of six races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – earn points leading to 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.
WHERE: Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Pomona, Calif. Track is located off I-10 at Fairplex Drive. From I-10, go north on Fairplex drive and follow the signs to Auto Club Raceway at the Fairplex.
COURSE: Championship drag strip; Track elevation is 1,100 feet above sea level; Track direction is north to south.
WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, Nov. 8-11SCHEDULE:
THURSDAY, Nov. 8 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
FRIDAY, Nov. 9 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at noon and 2:45 p.m.
SATURDAY, Nov. 10 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at noon and 2:45 p.m.
SUNDAY, Nov. 11 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.TELEVISION:
Friday, Nov. 9, FS1 will televise one hour of live qualifying coverage at 10:30 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, Nov. 11, FS1 will televise three hours of live finals coverage starting at 4 p.m. (ET).2017 EVENT WINNERS:
Brittany Force, Top Fuel; Tommy Johnson, Funny Car; Bo Butner, Pro Stock; Andrew Hines, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
MOST VICTORIES: John Force, FC, 8; Kenny Bernstein, TF-FC, 6; Greg Anderson, PS, 5; Bob Glidden, PS, 5; John Myers, PSM, 5; Warren Johnson, PS, 4; Dave Schultz, PSM, 4; Tony Schumacher, TF, 4.TRACK RECORDS:
Top Fuel – 3.628 sec. by Clay Millican, Feb. ’18 and 330.00 mph by Steve Torrence, Nov. ‘18
Funny Car – 3.822 sec. by Matt Hagan, Feb. ’17 and 336.32 by Matt Hagan, Feb. ’18
Pro Stock – 6.480 sec. by Erica Enders, Nov. ’14 and 213.84 mph by Drew Skillman, Nov. ’15
Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.766 sec. by Andrew Hines, Nov. ’12; 198.29 mph by Eddie Krawiec, Nov. ’12
Top Fuel – 3.628 sec. by Clay Millican, Feb. ’18, Pomona, Calif.; 336.57 mph by Tony Schumacher, Feb. ‘18, Phoenix
Funny Car – 3.793 sec. by Robert Hight, Aug. ’17, Brainerd; 339.87 mph by Robert Hight, July ’17, Sonoma, Calif.
Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ’14, Englishtown N.J.
Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct ‘12, Reading, PA.; 201.01 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ‘18, Gainesville, Fla.
TICKETS: For tickets call 800-884-NHRA (6472), of visit www.nhra.com/tickets/.
Photos courtesy of NHRA
Headquartered in Glendora, Calif., NHRA is the primary sanctioning body for the sport of drag racing in the United States. NHRA presents 24 national events featuring the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and E3 Spark Plug NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series. NHRA provides competition opportunities for drivers of all levels in the NHRA Summit Racing Series and the NHRA Drags: Street Legal Style presented by AAA. NHRA also offers NHRA Jr. Street program for teens and the Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League for youth ages 5 to 17. In addition, NHRA owns and operates four racing facilities: Atlanta Dragway in Georgia; Gainesville Raceway in Florida; Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis; and Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in Southern California.