NHRA drivers Steve Torrence in Top Fuel, Robert Hight in Funny Car, Erica Enders in Pro Stock, and Andrew Hines in Pro Stock Motorcycle, all were crowned world champions Sunday at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, CA.
For Torrence, it was his second straight NHRA Mello Yello Top Fuel championship.
In Funny Car, Robert Hight won his third championship, and second in three years.
In Pro Stock, Erica Enders earned her third career championship, tying NHRA legend Shirley Muldowney, as well as Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Angelle Sampey, as three-time female NHRA champions.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Andrew Hines—despite a seemingly impossible string of bizarre events that included Hines rolling backward out of the starting-line beams and red-lighting in Round 1, and concluding with rookie Jianna Salinas eliminating the two riders who could have surpassed Hines in the points race—won his sixth world championship Sunday, putting him in rare company.
Only nine other NHRA racers—pro or sportsman—have won six championships. One of them was Hall of Fame rider Dave Schultz.
Rookie Jianna Salinas, Jeg Couglin Jr., Jack Beckman, & Doug Kalitta Win Final 2019 NHRA Race in Pomona
“On Saturday I was just fighting just to qualify, I never thought I would be able to pull this off,” Salinas said. “I came into [Sunday] saying, whatever happens, happens. Win or lose I get to end the season on a high note. To be here right now in this moment is not something I ever expected to happen this soon. It’s insane. Not a single run I made today was a spectacular run. The final round was probably one of the worst runs I’ve made all weekend but it got the job done. Sometimes consistency is all you need to win.”
Salinas was the #13 qualifier in Pomona after a career-best 6.972 on her True Disruption Suzuki. She advanced past the first round for the third time this season after championship points leader Andrew Hines red-lighted on his Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson FXDR. Salinas collected a second win after Steve Johnson’s Slick 50 Suzuki fell silent at half-track. That scene was repeated in the semifinals when championship contender Matt Smith broke the engine in his Denso EBR in the semifinals. Smith, who needed to win the race in order to win the championship, was comfortably ahead when his V-twin expired in a cloud of smoke.
Advancing to her first final round, Salinas was paired with Savoie, who was also in contention for his second Mello Yello series championship. In another odd twist of fate, Savoie’s bike developed a severe engine miss as soon as it was fired. He was unable to perform a burnout and rolled into the stage beams in the hope that Salinas would red-light. She did not oblige and completed the unlikely victory with an early shut-off 7.64-second elapsed time. Savoie’s loss clinched the sixth championship for Hines.
“I know I’m new at this and [Hines] an amazing racer but its race day and you can never go up against anyone and know the outcome in advance,” Salinas said. “Anything can happen and it happened.”
Salinas becomes the 18th woman to win an NHRA professional title and the fifth to win in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class joining Angelle Sampey, Karen Stoffer, Peggy Llewellyn, and Angie Smith.
In Top Fuel, Doug Kalitta finished the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing season the way he started it—with a Pomona victory, and just 33 points shy of his long-awaited first NHRA championship.
“It was a fun day for sure,” Kalitta said. “I was really proud of the effort we put in today but three rounds was tough to make up, but we gave it all we could, so, obviously, it’s still on my list to win a championship. There are a lot of people who would love to see me win a championship and I would love nothing more than to get it done. I love running here at Pomona and to come out of here with a win in the 60th year [of racing by] Connie [Kalitta] team owner and having his car with Richie driving in the other lane.”
The 2020 Mello Yellow Drag Racing season will begin with the 60th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, February 6-9.
NHRA Pro Stock Point Standings
1. Erica Enders 2,635
2. Jeg Coughlin 2,367
3. Bo Butner 2,330
4. Jason Line 2,327
5. Matt Hartford 2,323
NHRA Funny Car Point Standings
1. Robert Hight 2,637
2. Jack Beckman 2,629
3. Matt Hagan 2,563
4. john Force 2,471
5. Bob Tasca III 2,446
NHRA Top Fuel Point Standings
1. Steve Torrence 2,607
2. Doug Kalitta 2,574
3. Brittany Force 2,555
4. Leah Pritchett 2,474
5. Billy Torrence 2,458
NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle Point Standings
1. Andrew Hines 2,599
2. Jerry Savoie 2,573
3. Matt Smith 2,553
4. Karen Stoffer 2,534
5. Eddie Krawiec 2,474
Drag Race Central and NHRA contributed to this report.