VOLUME XII,  ISSUE 4 - OCT. - DEC.,  2018

EVENT COVERAGE

NHRA World Finals at Pomona, California

 

Words by Kay Burk

Photos by Ron Lewis and Pam Conrad

Tanner Gray entered the 2018 National Hot Rod Association Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season with a singular mission. He succeeded by earning the NHRA Pro Stock world championship in his Chevrolet Camaro SS during qualifications for the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway. A day later, on Nov. 11, Gray put an exclamation point on his stellar season with his class-leading eighth victory.

 

Through the 24-race season from coast to coast, 14 Chevrolet drivers in Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock combined for 34 NHRA Mello Yello victories. Drivers of the Chevrolet COPO Camaro added six national event wins in Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Stock Eliminator and Super Stock categories, while COPO Camaro drivers picked up two wins in the School of Automotive Machinists and Technicians (SAM Tech) Factory Stock Showdown series.

 

Gray (19 years, six months) became the youngest pro champion in NHRA history. LE Tonglet (20 years, 11 months) was the previous youngest NHRA series champion in 2010 in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Larry Lombardo (27 years, 7 months) in 1976 was the previous youngest Pro Stock champion.

 

“There have been a lot of people who put a lot of effort into it. The crew we have right there have so much talent, they have such a great work ethic. They never give up and push me to be better every day,” said Gray, who has a 101-35 elimination round record in 48 career races. “I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without them. This is my grandpa’s (team owner and former driver Johnny Gray) first championship and to go out there and dominate and go out with a win is awesome.”

 

Gray was the NHRA Rookie of the Year last season. He has announced that he plans to move to the NASCAR truck series next season.

 

Chevrolet has powered the Pro Stock champion for five years in a row (Bo Butner in 2017, Jason Line in ’16, Erica Enders in ’14 and ’15).

Robert Hight was seeking to claim his second consecutive NHRA Funny Car championship and third overall entering race day as the No. 5 qualifier in the Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS. But when he smoked the tires in a first-round loss, J.R. Todd secured the title. Hight produced four victories and three runner-up finishes in finishing runner-up in the standings.

 

““First, congratulations to J.R. Todd and that DHL team. We gave them a run for the money, but we just came up two races short. We controlled our destiny in Las Vegas and today. We just didn’t get it done,” said Hight. “We had a great season and won races, but we wanted another championship. We had a plan for the first round and it didn’t work out. I think we saw that the left lane really wasn’t that good. We were aggressive but we needed to be quick to get lane choice. There are so many Funny Car teams that are elite and we are in that mix. I think we defended our championship well and we will start working on 2019 championship tomorrow.”

 

John Force Racing teammates Courtney Force, the No. 6 qualifier in the Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro SS, and No. 10 qualifier John Force, driving the PEAK Coolant & Motor Oil Chevrolet Camaro SS, fell in the second round.

Courtney Force finished sixth in the standings. 

Her father placed ninth. John Force’s first elimination round of the 2019 season will be the 1,900th of his illustrious career. 

 

Brittany Force, the 2017 Top Fuel champion, lost to 2018 title-holder Steve Torrence in the semifinals. Force, the No. 3 qualifier in the Monster Energy Chevrolet dragster, tied Torrence’s Top Fuel track speed record of 333 mph in her second-round victory. She placed fifth in the standings.

Gray, the No. 6 qualifier in the Gray Motorsports/Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro SS, defeated No. 4 qualifier Drew Skillman (Ray Skillman Auto Group Chevrolet Camaro SS) in the final when Skillman left the starting line too early, turning on the dreaded Red light, and taking himself out of the competition. 

 

Gray defeated three-time Pro Stock champion Jason Line (Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro SS) in one semifinal, while Skillman dispatched No. 1 qualifier Jeg Coughlin Jr. (JEGS.com/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro SS) in the other.

 

With his semifinal appearance, Line became the 15th pro driver to compete in 900 elimination rounds.

 

Skillman defeated Greg Anderson (Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro SS) in the second round, denying the four-time Pro Stock champion of becoming the fourth professional driver in NHRA history with 800 round victories. John Force has 1,311, Warren Johnson has 874 and Tony Schumacher has 841.

 

Other first-round winners included 2017 Pro Stock champion Bo Butner (Jim Butner Auto Chevrolet Camaro SS), Alex Laughlin (Gas Monkey Energy Chevrolet Camaro SS) and Erica Enders (Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro SS).

Last year’s Pro Stock champion, Bo Butner, has announced he will be returning to Pro Stock and also driving in the Factory Stock class next season. 

 

“Of course, I wanted to leave here with a win, and that's a tough feeling, but we do have a great future ahead,” Butner said. “I'm still happy, and I'm excited about what comes next."

Erica Enders 

 

Erica Enders, who had dominated the Pro Stock class for several years, moved to Dodge for a couple of disappointing seasons before returning to Bowtie power this year. Although making progress, the Elite Motorsports team with teammate Jeg Coughlin Jr. has not had the season they hoped for.

 

“This season is over … good riddance,” Enders admitted. “It definitely wasn't the year we were working for, but all things being considered, I would give us a B-minus at best. But it was directionally correct from the two years prior. So, we are headed in the right direction. We’ve got our Chevy program back up to par and I don't see any reason why Jeg and I can't go out there and finish one-two. It’s a tall order, but we will set our sights on that goal."

 

SPORTSMAN CLASSES

Jeff Taylor of Sellersburg, Indiana, the runner-up in the last Stock Eliminator national event at Las Vegas driving his Chevrolet COPO Camaro, claimed his 46th national event victory in his 67th final.

 

“The COPO program is awesome. It speaks for itself,” Taylor said.

 

Dan Fletcher of Churchville, New York, the No. 1 qualifier in his COPO Camaro of 59 Stock Eliminator entries, lost in the semifinals. Al Corda of Elk Mound, Wisconsin, fell in the third round of eliminations.

 

Tom Ferruggia of Menifee, California, was the No. 12 qualifier of 59 Super Stock entries, driving his Chevrolet COPO Camaro. He advanced to the third round of eliminations.  

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