NHRA title week: Two championships still up for grabs

NHRA’s final two Mello Yello Drag Racing Series champions will be crowned at the Auto Club NHRA Finals Nov. 12-15, held on Auto Club Raceway at Pomona’s dragstrip.

During the penultimate race at Las Vegas, two drivers achieved their 2015 championships: Antron Brown aced Top Fuel and, by winning her fourth consecutive race at this track (and 22nd straight round win), Erica Enders-Stevens earned her second straight Pro Stock championship.

Still to be decided are titles in Funny Car and Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Worsham vs Beckman

The battle for Funny Car is, primarily, between two local Southern California boys: 2011 Top Fuel champ Del Worsham leads 2012 Funny Car title winner Jack Beckman. It’s fair to say both grew up in the sport at the Pomona track and Beckman has taught intricacies of the sport at Frank Hawley’s Pomona drag racing school.

Neither member of this duo raced beyond the second round at Las Vegas and Worsham comes into the season finale with a 38-point advantage. Beckman’s teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. lies 97 points in arrears, having closed ranks with his finals appearance in Las Vegas. Ron Capps is also mathematically eligible; he lies 140 points behind Worsham.

Thus far in the season Beckman, from Norco, Calif., has nabbed seven Wally trophies for winning races; six of them came during the 18-race “regular” season, with a solitary win in the Countdown to the Championship has kept “Fast Jack” in good stead as he attempts to take his second championship in the tough Funny Car category. While accumulating more than 38 points is achievable - less than two rounds - it’ll be tough for Beckman and his Infinite Hero Dodge Charger R/T team to beat Worsham, whose consistency in the Countdown has been stellar - he’s also won three times in the six-race playoff series.

At the start of this season, Beckman looked nothing like a championship contender. While he’s spent his professional career almost exclusively in the Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) camp, Jack and his Infinite Hero Foundation team started the year with a new set of crew chiefs: Jimmy Prock, John Medlen (both of whom came to DSR from John Force Racing) and Chris Cunningham, who previously worked with Bob Tasca III, also a former Ford driver (Force’s team races Chevrolet now).

The Infinite Hero team didn’t make the field for the season starter so, optimist that he is, Beckman figured the only way was up from there. Not only has this squad earned seven victories, they’ve got two runner-up results, have been to the semifinals three times and made the quarterfinals five times. Beckman has earned five poles and currently holds the national record for speeding down the 1,000-foot dragstrip at 3.897 seconds, set at Reading, where he earned win No. 7.

The Countdown has been excellent for triple race-winner Worsham, who achieved all of his three victories in the playoffs, at Charlotte and St Louis and in Texas. It’s often said that momentum in racing dictates finishes and if this is true, the Chino Hills resident is primed to take his second title after winning Top Fuel in 2011 with Al-Anabi Racing.

At that time Worsham came into the finals playing catch-up so being in the lead is definitely a nice change for the driver of Kalitta Motorsports’ Toyota Camry. “Our ultimate goal is still in our control, we plan on going to Pomona and working hard on achieving the title,” Worsham said. All season long, he and his DHL crew have worked on consistency, trying to get the car comfortable for Worsham, who, you might remember, was crew chief to now-teammate Alexis DeJoria her first year in Funny Car competition.

Should he win the title, Worsham would become the third driver to achieve both Top Fuel and Funny Car titles. It would have special significance to car owner Connie Kalitta, whose son Scott raced the DHL Funny Car until his untimely death at Englishtown several years ago. The name “Scott' remains on the bright yellow Toyota to this day. “Being a part of this team, being part of building this Funny Car with Nicky [Boninfante), Jon-O (Oberhofer), Connie Kalitta, building this thing for Scott, it would mean a lot to win the championship. Icing on the cake and bonus is to get to win in both classes.”

Hines leads Motorcycle class

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, there’s a minuscule 83-point gap between first and third places with all other racers excluded from this Countdown to the Championship. Four-time champion Andrew Hines, with four victories to his credit - the most recent coming at Las Vegas - has a 46-point gap to Suzuki TL1000 rider Jerry Savoie.

When the series went to its penultimate race late last month, Savoie was in third place and only 31 points behind Hines. Savoie, the Louisiana alligator farmer was the fastest rider in Sin City but lost in the finals when he fouled, leaving before the Christmas Tree completed its colorful dance (-.009) and handed the win to Hines, looking for a fifth title. Hines’ Harley-Davidson Screamin’ Eagle teammate Eddie Krawiec, a three-time champ in the class, is third. Savoie’s foul, and the fact that Krawiec departed after the second round gave Hines some breathing room entering Pomona.

Lights are king in drag racing, but nowhere more than in Pro Stock Motorcycle, where a perfect light is easy to strive for but very rare to achieve. It’s that millisecond between cutting a great light and leaving too soon, as Savoie did in Las Vegas, that makes or breaks this class.

Should Hines complete his personal “Drive for Five” at Pomona, he’ll become the ninth person to secure five NHRA titles and the youngest to do so, at 32 years old.

Weather shouldn’t play a hand in determining the outcome of this race. While we’re expecting warm temps on Friday and Saturday (and chilly evenings/mornings), it should cool into the mid-70s by race day on Sunday with no precipitation expected (subject to change, of course). Winds could play a part but the grandstands at Auto Club Raceway are long enough to stop that from becoming a huge factor.

The stage is set, then, for the final two titles to find homes - appropriately at NHRA’s birthplace. While the sanctioning body used to hold qualifying over three days for the two bookending Pomona races, it now keeps the schedule uniform throughout, with two qualifying attempts each on Friday and Saturday, the first intended at mid-day on both days and the second scheduled to be held in late afternoon, a time of cooling temperatures.

While not impossible, it’s not likely that any national records will be set this weekend, although Top Fuel racer Shawn Langdon nearly did so in the February opener.

The seven racers attempting to earn their Funny Car (Worsham, Beckman, Johnson Jr and Capps) or Pro Stock Motorcycle (Hines, Savoie, Krawiec) championships all realize that the title they each want has more to do with the culmination of a season’s worth of make-or-break moves, all happening under the invariable spotlight of that very special NHRA Countdown to the Championship Race No. Six.

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Del Worsham , Jack Beckman , Andrew Hines , Jerry Savoie
Article type Preview