POMONA, Calif. – Jeg Coughlin captured his fifth NHRA Pro Stock world championship title Sunday at the Auto Club NHRA Finals.
Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Rickie Jones (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were race winners at the 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season-finale.
Coughlin, who won four races in eight final rounds during the season at the controls of his JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Avenger, took the title at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona when his only remaining challenger, Jason Line, lost in the second round of eliminations.
"We've seen a lot of races won and lost by just a few thousandths of a second,” Coughlin continued. “I think this is one of the tightest, and one of the most intense championships I've ever won. This ranks right up there with 2007 when we had the two cuts to the Countdown to One in the first year of our playoffs."
Coughlin, a native of Columbus, Ohio, becomes only the eighth driver in NHRA history to win five pro series championships. He also won a Super Gas title in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series in 1992. This title, his first since 2008, follows a disappointing 2012 season where he failed to win a race and finished ninth in the points standings.
"To bring a second straight championship back to Auburn Hills for our friends at Mopar and another one to Greeneville, Tenn., for the J&J Racing crew, and now a seventh overall world championship to Delaware, Ohio, for everyone at JEGS, it feels fantastic," Coughlin said. "It ranks right up there at the top."
Newly-crowned Top Fuel world champ Langdon finished off his year in style by racing to his seventh victory of the season, holding off hard-charging Doug Kalitta at the finish line in the final round. Langdon powered to a 3.784 second run at 323.58 mph in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster to finish in front of Kalitta’s Mac Tools dragster, which posted a 3.808 at 322.04. Langdon defeated Steve Torrence, David Grubnic and Clay Millican in the first three rounds.
“This is the top of the cake this weekend,” said Langdon, who secured his first Top Fuel crown following Saturday’s qualifying. “It’s an absolutely special weekend for everybody involved with Al-Anabi Racing. This is what I envisioned as a kid wanting to be a professional drag racer. When you’re living a dream and being part of something special, it almost puts you at a loss for words. I’m very fortunate to be a part of a great team. I still have to keep pinching myself.”
The Southern California native became only the sixth Top Fuel driver to sweep both Pomona races, as he opened the season with a victory at the NHRA Winternationals. Tony Schumacher (2004), Gary Scelzi (2000), Mike Dunn (1999), Darrell Gwynn (1989), and Gary Ormsby (1986) also accomplished the feat.
“There are certain races you go to when you feel like you need to win the race as soon as you pull in the gates, and we definitely have that in Pomona,” Langdon said. “Alan works his magic out here, and you can see by his track record. My crew chief, Brian Husen, gave me a phenomenal car all weekend. The team has been in this position before, but it’s all new to me as a driver. I was a nervous wreck coming in, but I built up some confidence as the weekend went on. My lights started getting better and better, and the car was getting better as well."
In Funny Car, Hagan gained a bit of revenge by defeating arch-rival Force in a marquee final round pairing between the top two points finishers. Hagan, who won the race without the assistance of crew chief Dickie Venables who was recuperating in Indianapolis after a recent medical procedure, posted a 4.018 at 320.66 in his Magneti Marelli/Rocky Boots Dodge Charger to edge the 16-time series champ’s Castrol GTX Ford Mustang at the finish.
“I’m on cloud nine that our assistant crew chief stepped up and was able to fill some big shoes,” Hagan said. “Dickie Venables was sick this weekend, and Mike Knudsen has never tuned a race car and had to jump in here, and there hasn’t been a crew chief [from another team] up in our lounge. I mean, this guy has done a phenomenal job. It just shows you when something happens someone else can step up and take the reins and run with it.”
Hagan earned his 10th career victory and second at this event by also outrunning Alexis DeJoria, Johnny Gray and Cruz Pedregon in earlier rounds. Hagan, who led the series standings for much of the season, finished second to Force for the second time (also 2010).
“My guys have been working so hard; I’m so proud of them,” said the 2011 world champ who moonlights as a cattle rancher in his native Virginia. “I wish we could have won the championship, but that goes to John this year. I’m young in this sport, and I’ll just come in and fight for it next year.”
Jones scored an emotional first career victory in Pro Stock, defeating defending world champ Allen Johnson in the final round. The 26-year-old driver, who became the ninth different winner in the competitive category, used a reaction time advantage and clocked a 6.584 at 210.28 in his Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro to hold off Johnson’s quicker, but losing Team Mopar Dodge Avenger, which finished in 6.581 at 211.03.
Jones outran Matt Hartford, four-time champ Greg Anderson and Buddy Perkinson to advance to his fourth career final round. He broke down as he was climbing out of his car in the shut down area.
“Man, it was so emotional,” Jones said. "You work for something so long, driving the race truck across the country, and keep beating on it. This is what I’ve always wanted since I was racing junior dragsters when I was 10. It seemed like it took forever for the win light to come on, and when it did, there were so many tears in my eyes that I almost couldn’t see the turnoff road. To get my first win at the Finals at Pomona, which is one of the biggest races of the year, is really awesome.”
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, defending world champ Krawiec claimed his third win in his sixth consecutive final round at this event when he rode his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson to a performance of 6.918 at 192.41 to deny Scotty Pollacheck his first win. Pollacheck trailed with a 6.963 at 193.57 on his Quality Tire Buell.
"It was an awesome day,” Krawiec said. “I’m fortunate that this race track has been my house. That’s the way I look at it. I do the best I can to not let anyone else win here. The odd stat is that I’ve won here every year that I’ve lost the championship, and won this race in years when I’ve lost the championship. I guess that it’s a good way to cap the season either way.”
Krawiec, who finished the season in third place in the standings, outran Steve Johnson, John Hall and Michael Ray en route to taking his second victory of the season and 22nd of his career. He celebrated the win with several Harley-Davidson execs, including Willie G (Davidson), the icon of Harley-Davidson Motorcycles.
“I look up to him for what he’s done in the sport,” Krawiec said. “He has a long history of success in motorcycle racing. I ended up giving him the race-win Wally. He has everything he’s ever wanted, but he didn’t have a Wally. That was just a small token of my appreciation for him.”
The 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series opens Feb. 6-9 with the NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in Southern California.
Point standings (top 10) following the 49th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, the final of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series
1. Shawn Langdon, 2,653; 2. Antron Brown, 2,489; 3. Doug Kalitta, 2,488; 4. Morgan Lucas, 2,422; 5. Spencer Massey, 2,422; 6. Clay Millican, 2,404; 7. Tony Schumacher, 2,394; 8. Khalid alBalooshi, 2,286; 9. Bob Vandergriff, 2,251; 10. Steve Torrence, 2,217.
1. John Force, 2,688; 2. Matt Hagan, 2,548; 3. Jack Beckman, 2,445; 4. Cruz Pedregon, 2,415; 5. Robert Hight, 2,413; 6. Ron Capps, 2,406; 7. Courtney Force, 2,403; 8. Del Worsham, 2,309; 9. Johnny Gray, 2,309; 10. Tim Wilkerson, 2,238.
1. Jeg Coughlin, 2,572; 2. Allen Johnson, 2,514; 3. Jason Line, 2,502; 4. Mike Edwards, 2,482; 5. Shane Gray, 2,480; 6. Erica Enders-Stevens, 2,406; 7. V. Gaines, 2,355; 8. Greg Anderson, 2,345; 9. Vincent Nobile, 2,298; 10. Rodger Brogdon, 2,147.
Pro Stock Motorcycle
1. Matt Smith, 2,633; 2. Michael Ray, 2,510; 3. Eddie Krawiec, 2,492; 4. Hector Arana Jr, 2,464; 5. Hector Arana, 2,456; 6. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,385; 7. LE Tonglet, 2,383; 8. John Hall, 2,351; 9. Shawn Gann, 2,247; 10. Adam Arana, 2,244.