Season-opening wins go to Lucas, Hight, Line in Pomona

Morgan Lucas, Robert Hight, and Jason Line kicked off NHRA’s 60th Anniversary season in style with victories at the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season-opening Kragen O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Valvoline.

After enduring on-again, off-again weather in three days of qualifying, fans at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona were treated to spectacularly clear conditions and exciting competition, pitting both fierce rivals and friendly teammates, that had the drama level ratcheted high.

Fans also witnessed great performances during the four-day event, including the fastest Top Fuel speed (327.03 by Tony Schumacher) and second-quickest pass (3.770, Larry Dixon), both of which are new national records, plus the fourth-fastest Top Fuel speed (324.98, Dixon), the third- and sixth-quickest Funny Car e.t. (4.015 by Cruz Pedregon and 4.023 by Matt Hagan), and the third-fastest Pro Stock speed (212.43 by Erica Enders).

The Top Fuel final boiled down to teammates Lucas and Shawn Langdon, who were racing for just the fourth time and for the first time in the final. Lucas had won the previous three battles between the former high school classmates — two last season and one in 2009 – and won this one as well with a 3.83 in his Dickie Venables-tuned GEICO dragster after Langdon’s engine went sour at the finish line after he had grabbed a nice starting-line advantage.

“I’ve never been in the points lead in Top Fuel before, and I don’t really even know how to feel right now,” said Lucas. “Getting to race my teammate Shawn, who I went to high school with, this is just a dream come true, it really is. We were really fortunate in 2009 to get three wins, then we went on a big drought last year in 2010. I think that is one of those things that makes you appreciate success, and all the guys do. I think as a team we’re really going to appreciate this day and just enjoy it because, you know what, who knows when the next one is going to happen?

“The thing about it is this is probably one of the most special races there is. In my eyes, it’s here, Gainesville, Indy, and the Finals. Those are the races that if you’re going to win one, those are the ones you want to win, and maybe a little, in a selfish way, the Lucas Oil Nationals in Brainerd just because of family.”

Lucas, who hadn’t been to a final round since the 2009 Memphis event, which he won, barely escaped round one with a 4.25 after Brandon Bernstein smoked the tires but stepped up to a 3.858 in round two to defeat Terry McMillen, who had upset low qualifier and defending event and world champ Dixon in the first stanza. Lucas then reached the final, the ninth of his career, by taking down Del Worsham — making his return to the class – on a 4.04 to 4.12 count in the semifinals. Lucas, who lost his first five Top Fuel finals before finally scoring at the 2009 event in Atlanta, also has 11 wins in the Top Alcohol Dragster class.

Langdon, runner-up at the 2010 season finale at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, reached the final again with his John Stewart-tuned Lucas Oil dragster by racing past T.J. Zizzo, former world champ Schumacher, and Antron Brown, who defeated Langdon in the money round of the 2010 Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals. Langdon, a back-to-back national champ in Super Comp (2007-08), sandwiched a pair of 4.0s around a second-round 3.841 to reach the final.

It was a classic John Force Racing vs. Don Schumacher Racing final round in Funny Car, in which the mega teams that battled for the championship last November in Pomona returned to contest the opening race of the new campaign. The heartache continued for Hagan when Hight beat him on a final-round holeshot, 4.05 to 4.02, for his 19th win.

“To win the Winternationals, the first race of the year, at Auto Club Raceway is just awesome,” said Hight. “The biggest deal for me is how long it’s been since we won even a round. It goes clear back to Brainerd last year. What’s really important to me is this is the fourth year in a row that my guys have stayed together, the complete team 100 percent of them, and that makes it so easy to get out here and do what you know how to do. And it makes it that much more special when you win because you pull together, you stay together. You become a family, and that’s what makes these times so special.

“You look at the class, it ain’t that easy to get wins. Look at the guys I had to beat today: Bob Tasca [III]; John Force, the 15-time champ; [Ron] Capps; Hagan. It’s not that easy. If we would have slipped up just a little in the final, we would have been dust.”

Local hero Hight, who reached the Winternationals final three straight years — sandwiching wins in 2006 and 2008 around a 2007 runner-up — reached the final again with his Jimmy Prock-tuned Automobile Club of Southern California Mustang, his 32nd money round. Hight defeated Ford stablemate Tasca in round one, then took out his boss, reigning world and event champ Force, in the semifinals, 4.10 to 4.12. Hight then defeated another two-time Winternationals winner, Capps, in the semifinals, 4.070 to 4.079.

Hagan, who a few months ago suffered the anguish of watching his championship hopes end in a first-round loss, made significantly better Winternationals memories by piloting his Tommy DeLago-tuned DieHard Dodge to the final round, the eighth of his young career. Hagan bested Southern Californians Gary Densham and Jeff Arend with low e.t. of the first two rounds – 4.06 and 4.10, respectively — then defeated the third JFR car, driven by tuner and driver Mike Neff, on a holeshot tin the semifinals, 4.13 to 4.12.

Line, who qualified just 11th with his Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac, found new life on race day, reeling off amazingly consistent passes capped by low e.t. of the meet, 6.529, at 211.89 mph in the final to defeat Greg Stanfield for his 22nd win and his first since last year’s Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals. A Summit Racing car has been in the final at each of the last six Winternationals and in seven of the last eight, with six wins, four by Greg Anderson and two by Line.

“My confidence wasn’t that high [entering eliminations], but I kept thinking about Greg last year at Vegas and Dallas, where he qualified in the bottom half,” said Line. “I thought, ‘You know, if we can get down the right lane decent enough to win first round, then we have a shot at it.’ We actually went .53 and .53 in the right lane. The car, I would say, it was phenomenal. It drove like a Cadillac today and not a Pontiac. It was pretty good.

“You can’t start any better, I guess. I’ve said before the year started that I wanted to win all the races, and if you want to win them all, you have to win the first one. It was kind of a strange weekend with the weather and everything else, but it was a great weekend, a great way to finish it. It feels awful good to win here, that’s for sure. It’s been kind of another strange off-season for us, so to start this way feels good.”

Line, the 2009 Winternationals winner, reached his 49th final with passes 6.538, 6.535, and 6.532 to defeat V. Gaines, rookie Vincent Nobile, and Summit stablemate Anderson. Line had an exemplary .001 reaction time against his world-championship teammate. Line also is a perfect 2 for 2 in Sportsman final rounds.

Stanfield, a four-time NHRA national champ in the Sportsman ranks, experienced an outstanding 2010 with a win at the prestigious Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil and a championship runner-up, and his 2011 season is off to a great start for new sponsor Safety Sentry. Stanfield used a pair of 6.56s in the first two rounds to defeat rookie Buddy Perkinson and Ron Krisher, then stepped up to a 6.538 in the semifinals to trailer Ronnie Humphrey in the Genuine Hotrod Hardware Pontiac to reach his 24th Professional final.

Sportsman competition will continue Monday, beginning at 9 a.m. PT. The NHRA Audiocast will be available to all.

by Phil Burgess, National DRAGSTER Editor

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your email!

Related Racing News



You can be the first one to leave a comment.

Leave a Comment

To comment, click below to log in.

Optimized by SEO Ultimate