POMONA >> There was quite a race Friday afternoon at Auto Club Raceway at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds: Mother Nature against NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series teams.
Midway through the second qualifying session of the day for the season-opening Winternationals, skies no longer posed a threat but actually started to release raindrops on the drag strip. The wet stuff stayed away long enough in the morning to allow racers their first run following three months of offseason but the sanctioning body pulled the plug at 5 p.m., midway through the second Funny Car session.
Qualifying, weather permitting, will resume Saturday at 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. to determine the 16-car pro fields in Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock for final eliminations. There is a slight chance of rain Saturday but clear skies are expected on Sunday.
Doug Kalitta, who won the 2016 season finale at the track, was the quickest in Top Fuel in the 14-car field. The Kalitta Motorsports driver posted a 3.697 seconds at 326.69 mph, a career best in time, over the 1,000-foot course to beat Brittany Force for the provisional top spot.
Force recorded a time of 3.706, just ahead of a trio with close efforts. Tony Schumacher was third at 3.729 followed by rookie Troy Coughlin Jr. at 3.730 and two-time defending champion Antron Brown at 3.732.
In Funny Car, one run was enough for Matt Hagan to record the quickest run of the day. Driving for Don Schumacher Racing, the Christiansburg, Virginia farmer covered the 1,000 feet in 3.840 at 330.15 to edge the 3.849 at 330.23 put up by Courtney Force.
The next three in line were Tim Wilkerson (3.857), Alexis DeJoria (3.932) and class rookie J.R. Todd (3.936), who competed in Top Fuel last season. Defending champion Ron Capps posted the ninth-best time of the morning session at 4.158.
Pro Stock, which started the day earlier than listed in an effort to beat the rain, was led by Greg Anderson and Summit Racing teammate Jason Line. The pair finished 1-2 in points last season, with Line on top, and resumed their pressure on the class with runs of 6.557 at 210.60 and 6.563 at 210.93.
In a sign that their domination of the class will be seriously challenged over the next 24 national events, Erica Enders was third with a quarter-mile pass at 6.667, followed by Bo Butner’s 6.570 and Shane Gray at 6.573.
Kalitta’s run wasn’t surprising to the Saline, Michigan resident.
“After running that 3.69 in (Phoenix) testing in this Mac Tools Toyota, I can tell you I really wanted to come here and run it officially,” said Kalitta. “We love coming here. This is one of my favorite tracks, full of history.
“It is always maintained well. After our season-ending win last season, we hope to take this all the way and make it two straight.”
There are several reasons Kalitta has the feeling for Pomona.
He has two career wins at Fairplex, six top qualifying spots and the lone Top Fuel driver to make final-round appearances last season.
Hagan is on a mission in the season opener, as reflected by the subject on his helmet. Although a daughter joined his family late last year, he has dedicated his efforts to the memory of brother Kerry who died unexpectedly last month.
“It was nice to roll off the trailer and put up that .84,” said Hagan. “Looking (at the sky), I knew I had to get that run in. I’m glad it ran so strong that first time.
“I’m ready to go racing,” said the two-time class champion, “I want my guys to know it. Funny Car is brutal, it’s savage out there.”
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