POMONA, Calif. — official release — NHRA photo —
Tony Schumacher earned a record eighth Top Fuel world championship title Saturday at the 50th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
Richie Crampton (Top Fuel), Alexis DeJoria (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock), and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) earned No. 1 qualifying positions and will lead their categories into Sunday’s 11 a.m. eliminations at the final NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship event of the season.
Schumacher claimed his first season crown since 2009 following qualifying when closest challenger Spencer Massey failed to improve on his sixth place qualifying position. Schumacher earned the championship over second place Massey by building a 104-point lead with only a maximum of 100 points available to a single driver on Sunday.
“In the regular season, Kalitta had the car, a phenomenal car,” said Schumacher. “We were all thinking that he’d be leading the points if he could maintain. Very seldom does a car lead from the beginning to the end, and that’s what we were hoping for. It’s just a long season with a lot of different changes and different conditions.”
Schumacher entered the Countdown playoffs as the fourth seed, but won the first two Countdown races and then pulled away from his rivals with another playoff victory at the controls of his famed U.S. Army dragster at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pa. on Oct. 5.
“Getting near the Countdown, we started doing what we needed to do,” said Schumacher. “We went out and won Epping and Vegas. We won the Traxxas Shootout in Indy, which was fantastic. It was a letdown to enter the Countdown in fourth-place and not in the lead in the points standings.”
He missed finalizing the championship two weeks ago in Las Vegas and entered this race needing to earn a few more points to close the deal. By the end of qualifying on Saturday, he had the necessary points.
“For me and my dad and all of us, we questioned it at some point. It’s hard to go all those races without pulling off a victory without thinking about it. We want to win every race, and we were forcing certain issues. We knew we had to make a six-disc clutch program work, and we did not revert back to a five-disc. That’s what won us the championship. We stayed with it. We made it work, and when the Countdown came, we were ready for it.”
Rookie Top Fuel driver Crampton claimed his first No. 1 qualifying position with a track record time of 3.711 seconds at 316.30 mph in his GEICO/Lucas Oil dragster. The Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals winner and Auto Club Road to the Future Award candidate will race Troy Buff in the opening round.
The longtime crewmember and Australian transplant feels fortunate to be in a position to win his third race of the season and finally get a top qualifying position for his resume after being close several times this season.
“I came here as a spectator to this race in 1999 and sat in the grandstands with my family,” Crampton said. “I was just in awe of the sport, lining up to get autographs from the drivers. To be in this position now is just a dream come true. I am probably the most spoiled rookie in the history of NHRA because I race with a team that gives me such great equipment. Just like Indy, this is a huge race where we wanted to do well. It’s looking good so far, and hopefully it will translate into some round-wins tomorrow.”
In Funny Car, DeJoria powered to her third No. 1 of the season with a 3.998 at 311.41 in her Patron Café XO Incendio Toyota Camry. DeJoria, a three-time winner this season, will meet veteran driver Gary Densham in the first round.
“It’s one of the fastest tracks on the circuit, and to be No. 1 right now is great for our whole team, and they’re hungry,” DeJoria said. “I’m so excited, and it’s with a three-second run. It was an incredible session. It’s great to be a part of it.”
Meanwhile, only 23 points separate Funny Car championship contenders Matt Hagan and John Force. Hagan will race Chad Head in the first round on one side of the bracket, and Force will meet Bob Tasca III on the other side. Hagan needs to hold his ground to earn his second title, and Force needs to advance two rounds past Hagan to score his record 17th world championship.
Pro Stock championship challenger Line raced to his third No. 1 qualifying effort of the year and 38th of his career by posting a 6.517 at 212.19 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro. Line, who will meet Jeff Isbell in the first round, trails series leader Erica Enders-Stevens by 19 points heading into eliminations. Enders-Stevens, who is trying to become NHRA’s first female Pro Stock champ, qualified third and will race Larry Morgan in the opener.
“The way the ladder worked out, it should set up for a phenomenal day tomorrow if she and I race in the final,” Line said. “Whoever wins that would win the championship. This is a cool place. This is where champions are crowned. I’ve always said I like Pomona at the beginning of the year because you’re ready to get back to racing, and at the end of the year, you’re done; you’re worn out. I have one more day before I’m worn out, though.”
Arana raced to his third No. 1 of the season and 16th of his career in Pro Stock Motorcycle, powering his Lucas Oil Buell to a leading effort of 6.832 at 197.62. He will open eliminations against Fred Camarena.
“My bike is running good,” Arana said. “I’ve got my bike back from the beginning of the year, and that makes a big difference. It’s easier to ride, and it gives me confidence. We looked at the weather today and figured there would be some improvements, especially in Q3 when conditions were at their best. We put a good tune-up in the bike, but I made a mistake as a rider, and we didn’t get down the track. I forgot to let go of the clutch. We did learn some things that we could use for tomorrow, though.”
In the hunt for the championship in the two-wheel category, Eddie Krawiec trimmed Andrew Hines’ series lead to 89 points with his qualifying effort. The two Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson riders will battle for the championship tomorrow, although a first-round win by Hines will secure his fourth world championship title.