I recently got to attend one of my favorite events of the year, the NHRA World Finals at Auto Club Raceway @ Pomona in Pomona, CA. This is a great event not only because it is another chance to watch my favorite form of racing but with championships on the line it leads to some dramatic races and moments that stand the test of time. This year's event would provide many dramatic moments that will go down in history.
2019 NHRA Finals
I would get to the track early Friday morning for the opening round of eliminations in Stock eliminator. I was greeted by a sight rare to me in Phoenix, fog. This thick fog would hang around the track most of the morning. You could barely see Brackett Field which is right across the street from the racetrack.
Bill Bushmaker in his '76 Roadrunner was one of the first few cars down the cold racetrack on Friday morning.
Jim Meador in his '67 Camaro makes a winning pass in round one.
John Calvert from Lancaster, CA had the quickest stocker on the property this weekend. His 2019 Cobra Jet Mustang can run mid 8's in the stock setup and low 7's in the setup used in the Factory Stock class.
Legendary midwest racer Scotty Richardson driving Jerry Emmon's Camaro in Stock eliminator in Pomona.
John Buczynski in his '70 Baracuda makes a single pass in the opening round of competition.
Jeff Taylor would close out round one of Stock eliminator in his 2015 COPO Camaro.
The crew for the Russo family funny car for driver Jeff Arend gives the fans their first taste of nitro on Friday morning.
Local racer Jim Maroney climbs into his dragster to warm it up. This was Jim's second race running his own team, he bought Mike Strasburg's entire operation over the summer.
One of the surprises of the weekend was seeing Warren Johnson helping out on Joey Grose's pro stock car to get them pointed in the right direction. Warren Johnson still holds the record for most wins in pro stock.
Another bright spot on Friday was seeing former Top Fuel Hydro champion Scotty Lumbert around the pits talking to former alcohol hydro champion and current top fuel racer Shawn Reed. Scotty has been recovering over the last few years since a brutal accident in his boat back in 2016.
Longtime motorcycle racer Steve Johnson was one of the first riders down the track in the opening pro stock bike qualifying session.
Angie Smith wife of defending champion Matt Smith makes a solid opening lap on her Buell.
Former national event winner Richie Stevens Jr. made his third start of the season driving Alan Prusinesky's Dodge.
Bo Butner in his special paint scheme modeled after Ricky Bobby's car in Talladega Nights. He paints his car for Halloween every year and will leave it on for the final race in Pomona.
Kicking off nitro qualifying was Steven Densham son of Gary who was making his second career start this weekend.
Paul Lee & Blake Alexander both getting close to the center line on their first qualifying pass.
Jim Campbell driving for Jim Dunn in the classic Mooneyes paint for this weekend.
Top fuel newcomer Justin Ashley, the son of former funny car racer Mike Ashley, made his fourth career appearance in Pomona.
Mike Salinas made the best run during the first session and was the only car to run in the 3.60's.
It was a tough session for the fuel teams as a number of them struggled. However Billy Torrence would make a 330 mph pass on his opening shot.
For the second session I would race over to the other side to get shots of burnouts and launches as this would be a reserved section the rest of the weekend. A couple of northern Californian women would pair off to kick off the second session with Jianna Salinas & Kaite Sullivan side by side.
Hector Arana Jr. & Andrew Hines make top five qualifying runs on this pass
For the burnout shots to get a nice background blur I would slow the shutter speed to 1/250th. In between burnout and launch I would have to manually change shutter speed and aperture and ISO sensitivity. Here is Cristian Cuadra doing a burnout in his Mustang.
Aaron Stanfield running for the Elite team this weekend announced he would race full time in 2020.
Part time racers Joey Grose and Australian Shane Tucker side by side in Q2.
Greg Anderson used some interesting qualifying strategy in an attempt to race Erica Enders in round one on Sunday to try and help his teammate Jason Line win the championship.
Kenny Delco in the new car he received following his crash at the last race I attended in Denver.
The points leader entering the final race, Erica Enders.
#1 & #2 in points coming into the weekend Erica Enders & Jason Line ran side by side in Q2.
John Hale in a one off race driving for Chuck Worsham would kick off the second qualifying session. Unfortuately he would not make the run as his parachutes would pop out at the end of the burnout.
A couple of great looking funny cars Jonnie Lindberg & Jeff Arend.
Shawn Langdon doing a burnout in his Global Electronic Kalitta funny car.
Paul Lee returned to funny cars this season and the story is amazing. Paul suffered a widow-maker heart attack a few years ago and was told he would never race a funny car again. After two years of rehab and getting his strength back he started up his own team earlier in the season.
2016 funny car world champion Ron Capps & 2018 funny car world champion JR Todd side by side for Q2.
John Force & teammate Robert Hight side by side. The sun had dipped behind the grandstands by this time so the header flames started to show more.
DSR teammates Jack Beckman & Matt Hagan side by side to finish off Friday night qualifying.
Clay Millican & Terry McMillen kicked off Friday night top fuel qualifying.
Scott Palmer & Leah Pritchett in Q2. Leah would have the preliminary pole after this run.
In a meeting of young and old rookie Austin Prock went side by side with long time veteran Cory McClenathan. Cory had announced before this race that it would be his last in top fuel.
Shawn Reed doing a burnout prior to his Friday night run.
Jim Maroney from Phoenix against championship contender Doug Kalitta.
Jordan Vandergriff & Richie Crampton side by side.
Brittany Force making a single pass.
Billy Torrence and Mike Salinas finish up top fuel qualifying on Friday night.
Nitro Mike in his wheel standing PT Cruiser.
After top fuel qualifying the alcohol cars ran their final qualifying session. The track was pretty cold so it was a pretty unspectacular session. Here is Chris Marshall.
Hunter Jones & Terry Ruckman during the final alcohol funny car session.
#7 qualifier Casey Grisel running his injected nitro dragster
In top alcohol dragster there are two different combinations that can be run. You can run blown alcohol or injected nitro methane. The flames from the headers signal an injected nitro. James Stevens is running the blown car and Jackie Fricke is running the injected nitro combo.
After being up for basically 36 hours straight because of work and driving I got to the track "late" on Saturday but was still early enough to get a couple whiffs of nitro. Here are fans enjoying the sweet smell from Matt Hagan's pit.
Brian Hough and Tyson Parker kicked off the opening round of alcohol funny car eliminations.
Veteran racer and this years U.S. Nationals winner Jay Payne.
Mike Doushgounian beat Brett Williamson in this race by .008 seconds.
In between alcohol funny car and the pro session was competition eliminator. This class features many different car and engine classes in nearly every combo possible. Here is one of the greatest ever in NHRA David Rampy defeating Scott McClay in their round 3 matchup.
The Cuadra brothers Cristian & Fernando Jr. race their Mustangs against each other in the third qualifying session.
Their dad Fernando Sr. would follow them up in the following pair alongside Kenny Delco.
Bo Butner & Jason Line on their Q3 run.
Elite teammates and top two in points Erica Enders & Jeg Coughlin in Q3.
Andie Rawlings getting loose at the top end and crossing the centerline on her qualifying run.
Jim Maroney making a career best pass to open up the 3rd qualifying session for top fuel.
Steve Torrence & Clay Millican with side by side 325mph passes.
Scott Palmer burning up a head gasket at the finish line of this qualifying pass.
Mike Salinas & Antron Brown on their Q3 run
Leah Pritchett & Jordan Vandergriff side by side.
Bob Tasca making a solid 3.91 second pass on his 3rd qualifying pass.
Former world champion Ron Capps with another 3 second pass.
Cruz Pedregon barely crossing the center line on his qualifying pass.
Matt Hagan & Tim Wilkerson wrapping up the 3rd session with a great side by side run.
Fans gather inside of the hot rod corral for a cacklefest of old school dragsters.
The San Gabriel mountains provide a great backdrop of Pomona.
Chris McGaha & Val Smeland side by side during the final qualifying session.
Shane Tucker & Joey Grose making their final qualifying pass.
For this session I had the smaller lens on but swapped it out a couple times for different shots. One is of Matt Hartford staging and Alex Laughlin doing a burnout.
Erica Enders and Jeg Coughlin finished qualifying 1 & 2.
Katie Sullivan on her wild looking motorcycle. Her team won the hardest working crew award this weekend as they came back from a devastating engine explosion at the last race in Las Vegas.
Angelle Sampey & Hector Arana Sr.
Former champions Andrew Hines & Jerry Savoie.
Karen Stoffer & Matt Smith would wrap up the final qualifying session.
Cory Mac making the final pass of his top fuel career as he would not qualify for Sunday eliminations.
Shawn Reed & Justin Ashley
Rookie of the year in the NHRA, Austin Prock
Terry McMillen & Antron Brown
The top two in points Steve Torrence & Brittany Force in a preview of round two on Sunday went side by side for the final qualifying session. Steve ran a 3.686 second run to qualify #1.
Jim Campbell with big header flames as he pedaled the car trying to qualify but he would fail to make the show.
Cruz Pedregon spins the tires while Ron Capps makes a solid final qualifying pass.
Bob Tasca & Jack Beckman with a nice flames up side by side run.
Matt Hagan & Tim Wilkerson close out the final qualifying session of the season with a side by side flames up run.
Championship Sunday starts with a track walk before eliminations.
16x champion John Force signs autographs for the fans at the ropes after his warmup for his first round race against teammate Robert Hight.
Will Rodgers a crew member for Scott Palmer looking over data from the Datapak on the dash board during their morning warmup.
A couple of vintage warplanes cap off pre-race ceremonies.
Richie Crampton smoking the tires and pedaling his way to an opening round win over Mike Salinas.
Shawn Reed & Billy Torrence in a pedalfest in their round one matchup.
Jordan Vandergriff racing to the finsh line in his round one victory over his good friend Austin Prock.
Cameron Ferre at the finish line of a losing round one match against the points leader Steve Torrence but the big story would come when the two got out of their cars. When the two drivers got out some words were exchanged and Steve Torrence shoved Cameron Ferre in the face leading to a near fight.
Cameron Ferre came back up the return road to the cheers of the crowd while Steve Torrence got more boos than I have ever heard at a race track.
Steven Densham got his first career round win in wild fashion as he got really sideways and nearly hit the wall against Tim Wilkerson.
Shawn Langdon who is rumored to be heading back into a Kalitta dragster wins his opening round race over Jeff Arend.
Jack Beckman racing to an opening round win over John Hale.
John Hale had backfired the supercharger and the parachutes came out at half track in his loss against Jack Beckman.
Matt Hagan exploding a supercharger in his round one victory over Jonnie Lindberg.
Chris McGaha beats Deric Kramer on a holeshot in his opening round race. It was one of three races that were decided on holeshots in round one.
Fernando Cuadra was one of the other drivers to win on a holeshot against Matt Hartford.
In one of the most hyped races in recent pro stock history Greg Anderson used qualifying strategy to line up against Erica Enders to try and beat her to give his teammate Jason Line a shot at a championship. In a classic race Erica beat Greg by .008 seconds.
Vance & Hines Harley Davidson teammates Eddie Krawiec & Angelle Sampey race each other in round one with Angelle getting the win.
Father and son racing each other in round one. with Hector Arana Jr. picking up the win.
In between the first and second pro rounds the Summit racing ET finals took place. It is basically the bracket racing national championships with racers from around the country earning their way to Pomona to race for a national bracket championship. Austin Youndt from Pennsylvania defeats Steve Roehrs from Wisconsin in round one of Summit pro.
Jay Allen from Illinois defeats Randy Krause from Pennsylvania in the first round of the super pro class.
A cool shot I liked of the blower belt on Shawn Reed's engine shredding at the finish line of his race against Richie Crampton in round 2.
Jordan Vandergriff acknowledging the crowd after his dragster came to a stop in front of the grandstands after exploding an engine right off the starting line.
In the race of the day in top fuel the top two in points met up to essentially decide the top fuel championship. In a great drag race Steve Torrence beat Brittany Force to end her season all but wrap up his second straight world championship.
JR Todd & Jeck Beckman in a great second round race.
Ron Capps with the chutes out after a pretty big explosion during his second round loss to teammate Matt Hagan.
The first pro championship of the day was decided when Erica Enders beat Chris McGaha in the second round on a holeshot.
The crew for Erica celebrates up the return road after the championship clinching run.
Erica Enders parading in front of the grandstands with her 3rd championship trophy.
Chris Demke defeating Gord Gingles in the semi-finals of top alcohol dragster.
Although Richie Crampton beat Steve Torrence in the semi finals, by not crossing the centerline Steve Torrence clinched his 2nd straight world championship.
Jeg Coughlin & Bo Butner in a great semi-final race which Jeg won.
The smoke behind the bike signaled the end of Matt Smith's championship hopes in the semi-finals. It also sent Jianna Salinas into her first ever final round.
In the pro stock bike final Jianna Salinas matched up against Jerry Savoie. Jerry needed to win the race to come from behind to win the championship. In one of the biggest upsets in history Jerry's bike broke on the starting line giving Jianna her first victory and Andrew Hines the championship.
Jerry's broken bike sitting at the starting line
In the pro stock final Jeg Coughlin picks up the victory and denies Fernando Cuadra from picking up his first career victory.
In the funny car final all Robert Hight had to do was not cross the center line and receive a penatly and he would win the championship. Robert performed a long, smokey half track burnout to the roar of the crowd. The car shut off as he tried to back up and he climbed out of the car to give Jack Beckman the funny car win.
In an all Kalitta top fuel final to close out the 2019 NHRA season Doug Kalitta beat outgoing teammate Richie Crampton to lock up 2nd place in points.
Much like the pre-race track walk the crowd spills onto the track after the final pair of cars.
The four pro winners being paraded through the crowd on the way to the victory lane celebration.
The four world champions celebrating on stage with Coca Cola's marketing president Al Rondon.
The Vance & Hines team celebrating Andrew Hine's championship season
Steve Torrence with his wife alongside his parents Kay & Bill next to the championship trophy.
Late into the night one of the coolest things happened. Scott Palmer and crew pulled out Studezilla and fired it up a couple times. Studezilla is a wild creature, a full engine and drivetrain from his dragster put in a Studebaker pro mod.
Crew chief for champion Steve Torrence, Richard Hogan got the honors of sitting in Studezilla for the first fire up.
A little fuel misting in the air after one of the 7 or 8 throttle whacks.
It was an awesome experience and even a couple Pomona PD officers showed up to "check out" Studezilla and they even snapped a few photos with Scott and a few friends.
That will wrap up this blog on one of the most memorable races and it was a great way to wrap up the 2019 season. It will be just about eight weeks until testing begins in Phoenix for a new decade of NHRA Drag Racing.