Fabled Pomona Finals Caps Mello Yello Campaign
Jeg Coughlin gave Mopar & Chrysler it’s second consecutive NHRA Pro Stock World Championship and Shawn Langdon, Matt Hagan, Rickie Jones & Eddie Krawiec roared to individual victories at the season end AAA Auto Club Finals…..
For Jeg Coughlin it was his fifth career NHRA Pro Stock world championship title — but his first in a Dodge Pro Stocker.
Coughlin, who won four races in eight final rounds during the season at the controls of his JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Avenger, took the title at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona when his only remaining challenger, Jason Line, lost in the second round of eliminations.
“In this day and age, it is so tough to win out here,” said Coughlin, who joins Shawn Langdon, John Force and Matt Smith as 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Series world champions.
“We’ve seen a lot of races won and lost by just a few thousandths of a second,” Coughlin continued. “I think this is one of the tightest, and one of the most intense championships I’ve ever won. This ranks right up there with 2007 when we had the two cuts to the Countdown to One in the first year of our playoffs.”
Coughlin, a native of Columbus, Ohio, becomes only the eighth driver in NHRA history to win five pro series championships. He also won a Super Gas title in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series in 1992. This title, his first since 2008, follows a disappointing 2012 season where he failed to win a race and finished ninth in the points standings.
“To bring a second straight championship back to Auburn Hills for our friends at Mopar and another one to Greeneville, Tenn., for the J&J Racing crew, and now a seventh overall world championship to Delaware, Ohio, for everyone at JEGS, it feels fantastic,” Coughlin said. “It ranks right up there at the top.”
Newly-crowned Top Fuel world champ Langdon finished off his year in style by racing to his seventh victory of the season, holding off hard-charging Doug Kalitta at the finish line in the final round. Langdon powered to a 3.784 second run at 323.58 mph in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster to finish in front of Kalitta’s Mac Tools dragster, which posted a 3.808 at 322.04. Langdon defeated Steve Torrence, David Grubnic and Clay Millican in the first three rounds.
“This is the top of the cake this weekend,” said Langdon, who secured his first Top Fuel crown following Saturday’s qualifying. “It’s an absolutely special weekend for everybody involved with Al-Anabi Racing. This is what I envisioned as a kid wanting to be a professional drag racer. When you’re living a dream and being part of something special, it almost puts you at a loss for words. I’m very fortunate to be a part of a great team. I still have to keep pinching myself.”
The Southern California native became only the sixth Top Fuel driver to sweep both Pomona races, as he opened the season with a victory at the NHRA Winternationals. Tony Schumacher (2004), Gary Scelzi (2000), Mike Dunn (1999), Darrell Gwynn (1989), and Gary Ormsby (1986) also accomplished the feat.
“There are certain races you go to when you feel like you need to win the race as soon as you pull in the gates, and we definitely have that in Pomona,” Langdon said. “Alan works his magic out here, and you can see by his track record. My crew chief, Brian Husen, gave me a phenomenal car all weekend. The team has been in this position before, but it’s all new to me as a driver. I was a nervous wreck coming in, but I built up some confidence as the weekend went on. My lights started getting better and better, and the car was getting better as well.”
In Funny Car, Hagan gained a bit of revenge by defeating arch-rival Force in a marquee final round pairing between the top two points finishers. Hagan, who won the race without the assistance of crew chief Dickie Venables who was recuperating in Indianapolis after a recent medical procedure, posted a 4.018 at 320.66 in his Magneti Marelli/Rocky Boots Dodge Charger to edge the 16-time series champ’s Castrol GTX Ford Mustang at the finish.
“I’m on cloud nine that our assistant crew chief stepped up and was able to fill some big shoes,” Hagan said. “Dickie Venables was sick this weekend, and Mike Knudsen has never tuned a race car and had to jump in here, and there hasn’t been a crew chief [from another team] up in our lounge. I mean, this guy has done a phenomenal job. It just shows you when something happens someone else can step up and take the reins and run with it.”
Hagan earned his 10th career victory and second at this event by also outrunning Alexis DeJoria, Johnny Gray and Cruz Pedregon in earlier rounds. Hagan, who led the series standings for much of the season, finished second to Force for the second time (also 2010).
“My guys have been working so hard; I’m so proud of them,” said the 2011 world champ who moonlights as a cattle rancher in his native Virginia. “I wish we could have won the championship, but that goes to John this year. I’m young in this sport, and I’ll just come in and fight for it next year.”
Jones scored an emotional first career victory in Pro Stock, defeating defending world champ Allen Johnson in the final round. The 26-year-old driver, who became the ninth different winner in the competitive category, used a reaction time advantage and clocked a 6.584 at 210.28 in his Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro to hold off Johnson’s quicker, but losing Team Mopar Dodge Avenger, which finished in 6.581 at 211.03.
Jones outran Matt Hartford, four-time champ Greg Anderson and Buddy Perkinson to advance to his fourth career final round. He broke down as he was climbing out of his car in the shut down area.
“Man, it was so emotional,” Jones said. “You work for something so long, driving the race truck across the country, and keep beating on it. This is what I’ve always wanted since I was racing junior dragsters when I was 10. It seemed like it took forever for the win light to come on, and when it did, there were so many tears in my eyes that I almost couldn’t see the turnoff road. To get my first win at the Finals at Pomona, which is one of the biggest races of the year, is really awesome.”
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, defending world champ Krawiec claimed his third win in his sixth consecutive final round at this event when he rode his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson to a performance of 6.918 at 192.41 to deny Scotty Pollacheck his first win. Pollacheck trailed with a 6.963 at 193.57 on his Quality Tire Buell.
“It was an awesome day,” Krawiec said. “I’m fortunate that this race track has been my house. That’s the way I look at it. I do the best I can to not let anyone else win here. The odd stat is that I’ve won here every year that I’ve lost the championship, and won this race in years when I’ve lost the championship. I guess that it’s a good way to cap the season either way.”
Krawiec, who finished the season in third place in the standings, outran Steve Johnson, John Hall and Michael Ray en route to taking his second victory of the season and 22nd of his career. He celebrated the win with several Harley-Davidson execs, including Willie G (Davidson), the icon of Harley-Davidson Motorcycles.
“I look up to him for what he’s done in the sport,” Krawiec said. “He has a long history of success in motorcycle racing. I ended up giving him the race-win Wally. He has everything he’s ever wanted, but he didn’t have a Wally. That was just a small token of my appreciation for him.”
Event Essentials: AAA Auto Club Finals (Nov. 7-10th, 2013) Pomona, CA.
|TOP FUEL||Name||ET||MPH||Career Win|
|Low ET:||Brandon Bernstein||3.748|
|Top Speed:||Doug Kalitta||328.70|
|FUNNY CAR||Career Win|
|Low ET:||John Force||3.995|
|Top Speed:||Matt Hagan||320.66|
|PRO STOCK||Career Win|
|Low ET:||Mike Edwards||6.530|
|Top Speed:||Mike Edwards||212.23|
|PRO STOCK BIKE||Career Win|
|Low ET:||Hector Arana Jr.||6.818|
|Top Speed:||Adam Arana||196.36|
|Top Alcohol Dragster||Johnny Ahten||5.428||259.86|
|Top Alcohol FC||Frank Manzo||5.531||256.06|
|Super Stock||Jeff Adkinson||8.722||153.74|
|Super Comp||Bobby Dye Jr.||8.915||169.06|
|Super Gas||Pete Zak||8.881||147.29|
Classey Exit for Manzo!
Frank Manzo went out on top, winning his final race in Top Alcohol Funny Car, the AAA Finals at Pomona, with low e.t. and top speed, and Jim Whiteley narrowly missed doing the same in Top Alcohol Dragster, uncharacteristically faltering in the final against first-time winner Johnny Ahten after dominating all weekend.
Manzo, who has said all year that he would retire after the season, ran the only 5.4 all weekend and parlayed consistent low .50s, including a 5.53 in the final against Clint Thompson, into his 105th and last national event victory. “You don’t know you’re going to win 220-some races – however many it is – when you start racing,” said Manzo, 61, who also has 125 divisional/regional wins in his unparalleled career. “You just start, you keep going, and this is where you end up.”
The only thing Manzo didn’t do in his final race as a driver was qualify No. 1 for the record field (5.63 bump). He was third, behind championship runner-up John Lombardo and Annie Whiteley, but quickly established control in eliminations with low e.t. of all four rounds. His 5.50 in a first-round win over Kris Hool took low e.t. from Lombardo, and he dropped it to 5.49 in round two against Von Smith. “The track was awesome,” said Manzo, who had won at Pomona but never at the Finals. “You just don’t believe it could really be that good, but that’s the smoothest run I’ve made in a couple months.”
Every driver in the second round was in the 5.50s except Manzo and Shane Westerfield, who just missed in a 5.62 loss to Cody Perkins. Good reaction times and 5.50s as a sub for ailing Terry Ruckman carried Perkins to wins over Top 10 drivers Steve Gasparrelli and Westerfield and into the semifinals, where he went up in smoke the one time Thompson was vulnerable. Thompson’s engine faded at the end of a 5.64 and he crossed the finish line at just 247 mph, trailing smoke.
In the other semifinal bout, Annie Whiteley, who qualified No. 2 with a 5.53 and never ran slower than that in eliminations, came closer than anyone to beating Manzo, leaving right with him in a 5.52 to 5.53 race. “That’s probably the best car out here,” he said. “She’s my pick to win the championship next year.”
Thompson and crew completed repairs in time to face Manzo in a national event final for the second time. Unlike the 2010 Charlotte race, which was decided by two feet, this one was over early when Thompson’s car lost traction and Manzo had the track to himself on the last run he’ll ever make, a 5.53 at 265 mph.
“This is a dream,” said Manzo, who was emotional before the final, very aware of the situation. “To win my final race like this is incredible.” The championship that was at least still a mathematical possibility for other drivers just a month ago ended up a 150-point landslide, and Manzo walks away with a record 17 championships, including the last eight.
Jim Whiteley, who also had the championship locked up weeks ago and also won by more than 100 points, was denied a win in his final race when he shook and lost the blower belt against Ahten, who scored with a 5.42. “That was our lucky round,” said Ahten, who was solidly in the 5.30s in every other round. “The track was getting cold, and we were nervous about shaking the tires and hoped [Whiteley’s crew chief] Norm [Grimes] would try to rotate the earth. It left good, started to chatter, and I said, ‘Come on – don’t shake. The car was going 221 at half-track, but I kept waiting for him to blow past me the whole time. I couldn’t believe he didn’t.”
It was the first win of Ahten’s nine-year career after three runner-ups in divisional/regional competition, including one this year in Seattle. “I’ve let it slip through my fingers and really tried not to focus on ‘If I win this round I get a Wally’ and treated the final like any other run,” said Ahten, who had good lights in every round and his best, .012 and .016, in the last two. “The car was marching to half-track all weekend, but we could never keep all the cylinders lit to the end like we did in Vegas. We couldn’t get any wheel speed in air that good on a track that tight. But I guess it doesn’t matter now.” Until the Tree came on in the final, everything pointed toward another Whiteley whitewash. He had 17 mph on Ahten all weekend – 275-276 mph to 258-259 – and low e.t. and top speed. He owned qualifying (5.22 and 5.21) and, knowing that each run could be his last, unleashed another barrage of low 5.20s in eliminations: 5.24, 5.27, and 5.22, all at more than 275 mph, against Bill Litton, Ray Martin, and Garrett Bateman.
Ahten was just as consistent but about a tenth back with a 5.39, 5.35, and 5.36 against a Murderer’s Row of past national event champs: Shawn Cowie, Joey Severance, and Mark Taliaferro, who lost on a semifinal holeshot, 5.36 to 5.30. “That was the big one, the round we really had to have,” said Ahten, a Los Angeles County firefighter. “He and Cowie both flew past me going 270-something, and I didn’t know who won either time. I didn’t catch the win-light against Whiteley, either, and for a second I was afraid I red-lighted. I couldn’t believe it when everybody was waving at me and it hit me that I beat him in his last race, in Manzo’s last race. If you’re from here, Pomona is your Indy. I was a kid in the stands when the Finals was at Orange County, and standing up there with Manzo at the end of the race was incredible.”
Posted with files from NHRA Communications & Todd VeneyPhotos by: Bruce Biegler & Randy Anderson
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