NHRA’s “countdown” formula works well — as season-ending Auto Club Finals needed to determine all Mello Yello champions…. 

At his home track (Auto Club Raceway at Pomona) Funny Car’s Robert Hight clinched his third career NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world title and second in three years when he advanced to the final round of the 55th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals.

Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also claimed world championships in their respective categories at the final race of the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. The race winners of the final event of the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season were Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) and Jianna Salinas (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Hight knocked off championship hopeful and No. 1 qualifier Matt Hagan with a strong run of 3.977-seconds at 324.59 mph in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS to reach the final, where he just needed to not lose any points. In the final, Hight performed a massive burnout to the delight of the fans before the car shut off, handing him the championship during what was the best season of his career.

Robert Hight’s claimed his 3rd NHRA World title when he won his semi final round.

“The most important run of my life was in the semifinals against Matt Hagan,” Hight said. “When it comes down to one run to win a championship, how will you perform? My heart was beating out of my chest, but we got it done. This has just been the steadiest year I’ve ever had and that’s a real tribute to this team. It’s amazing and I’m the luckiest guy in the world to drive this Funny Car. To win six races, lead the points with the competition level in Funny Car, I’m going to cherish this championship the most because we earned it. We did our job.”

Hight, who becomes just the fifth driver in class history to earn a third title, beat teammate John Force and then Shawn Langdon to set up the showdown with Hagan, advancing to his ninth final round in 2019. His season included a career-best six victories, giving him 51 in his career, while Hight was consistently impressive all year, leading in points at 23 of the 24 races.

After Hight’s car shut off, Beckman took advantage in the final round, going 3.920 at 323.27 in his Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge SRT Hellcat to close his year in style. Beckman finished second in points with the win, just eight behind Hight, claiming his second win in 2019 and 30th in his career. Beckman reached the final round for the 63rd time overall thanks to round wins against John Hale, J.R. Todd and Blake Alexander.

Jack Beckman finished his season strong by notching his 30th career win in Fuel FC class racing.

“I’ve never won Funny Car at Pomona, so that was awesome,” Beckman said. “If you win at (the World Finals), the off-season is going to be fantastic. They’ve given me such a great racecar lately, and finished a solid second, ended the year with a win and we’ve got a phenomenal car. Things are awesome right now. I’m feeling on top of the world, to be honest with you.”

Torrence clinched his second straight NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel world title by advancing to the semifinals and making it down the track during that round on Sunday. In a massive second-round matchup with 2017 world champ Brittany Force, Torrence pulled away at the top end, going 3.749 at 326.48 in his CAPCO Contractors dragster. It followed a heated first-round matchup with Cameron Ferre, where Torrence, the No. 1 qualifier, won with a 3.734 at 327.82. The team rose to the occasion against Force, performing big in another clutch situation and making a clean pass in the semifinals to win back-to-back titles.

Despite a 3rd round loss at Pomona — Steve Torrence managed to successfully defend his NHRA Mello Yello Top Fuel championship title.

“It’s been really special to be part of a team that goes out and has the success we’ve had,” Torrence said. “It’s really special to win one championship, much less two and to do it back-to-back. I knew what we had to do and we were going to decide who had the best chance at it in the second round. The guys prevailed and gave me the racecar, and I did the job I needed to do when I needed to do it. Our group of guys has been together for years and that continuity is what has been a key recipe to our success.”

It capped off another remarkable season for the Texan, as Torrence was again in control for most of the year. He finished with nine Top Fuel wins, including a dominant stretch of eight wins in a nine-race span. Torrence, who won 11 races a year ago en route to his first title, also advanced to 14 final rounds in 2019, as he now has 36 wins and 55 finals appearances in his career. His playoff victory in Charlotte gave him the points lead for good, as Torrence’s path to the championship included three finals in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.

Kalitta came up only three points short of Torrence, just missing out on his first Top Fuel world title, but the veteran did close out 2019 with a victory in his Mac Tools dragster. He went 3.716 at 332.67 to beat Kalitta Motorsports teammate Richie Crampton in the final round. Kalitta earned his third victory of 2019 and 47th in his standout career, also sweeping both races at Pomona this year. He knocked off Terry McMillen, Justin Ashley and Leah Pritchett to reach the final round.

Doug Kalitta defeated his teammate Richie Crampton in the Top Fuel final round.

“It was fun, for sure,” Kalitta said. “I was real proud of the effort we put in today. We gave it all we could and it’s definitely still on our list to win a championship. I was real proud of my guys today coming out of here with a win, and I love running here in Pomona. It’s a great team effort we got going on here, so I’ll keep digging.”

In Pro Stock, Enders was cool under pressure on Sunday, capping off a strong performance in the playoffs by winning her third world title in Pro Stock. It didn’t come easy, as Enders faced off with Greg Anderson in the opening round of eliminations, slipping past the veteran with a 6.570 at 210.41 in her Melling Performance/Elite Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro. She clinched the championship a round later on a holeshot, knocking off Chris McGaha with a 6.597 at 209.69, giving Enders a third title after back-to-back championships in 2014 and 2015.

Sensational lady racer Erica Enders won the NHRA Pro Stock title for the 3rd time in her career.

“This one means a lot because of the valleys we’ve been through,” Enders said. “It was a challenge for us and I’m thrilled. It’s just an awesome feeling to be back on top, and it’s the reason why you never give up. Today ended up being a great day with us locking up our third championship and my teammate, Jeg Coughlin, winning the race and solidifying the second position. For everyone at Elite Motorsports to take home the top two positions in NHRA Pro Stock, it’s a huge thrill for us. We take a lot of pride in what we do and it paid off this year. I’m just really proud.”

By winning a third championship, Enders ties Shirley Muldowney and Angelle Sampey for the most titles in NHRA history by a female. On the strength of two wins and three No. 1 qualifiers in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, Enders also became the lowest seed to win a title in Pro Stock history after starting from fifth. She heads into 2020 with 25 career wins.

Coughlin’s year ended on a strong note, picking up the Pro Stock win over Fernando Cuadra with a 6.558 at 210.54 in his JEGS.com Chevrolet Camaro. It is Coughlin’s second win in 2019 and 63rd in his career, capping off a memorable day for Elite Motorsports as well. Coughlin, who was also the No. 1 qualifier, beat Joey Grose, Aaron Stanfield and Bo Butner to reach his 111th final round, taking plenty of momentum into the off-season.

Jeg Coughlin’s win in Pro Stock was his 2nd of the season.

“It was a tough raceday and there was a lot of emotions going on, but it was a great weekend,” Coughlin said. “It felt really good today to bring home the win, and a double win with Erica bringing home the championship and with us securing the No. 2 position. To have 2020 be the 50th year for Pro Stock, it’s going to be exciting. I think the class right now is looking extremely good.”

On a wild day in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Hines ended up with his sixth world championship in the class, earning the title after Jerry Savoie lost in the final round to Salinas. Hines’ day didn’t go as planned at all, losing on a red light in the opening round against Salinas when he just needed one round win for the title. But he had a big enough cushion over Savoie and Matt Smith to finish with the title for a sixth time on his Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson.

“I put my team in such a bad situation and I chalked it up that we’re done,” Hines said. “It was just absolute insanity. It was a total, utter disappointment on my behalf and a bitter pill to swallow. This was one of the craziest days ever and the final round was absolutely astonishing. But the reason why we’re here right now is what my team did all season long. It wasn’t just this race, it was what my guys did all year.”

Hines was dominant throughout 2019, putting together the best season in his standout career, setting the E.T. mark in the class and winning a career-best eight races. The winningest driver in class history now has 56 career victories and he also advanced to 10 final rounds this year.

Salinas’ day ended with her first career Pro Stock Motorcycle victory on her Scrappers Racing Suzuki, going 7.464 at 180.81 in the final round after Savoie broke. It capped off an unbelievable day for the rookie, which started with the win against Hines after he went red. She followed with wins against Steve Johnson, defending world champion Matt Smith, who broke after needing to win the race to clinch the title, to reach her first career final round.

Rookie racer Jianna Salinas collected a huge upset win in Pro Stock motorcycle.

“On Saturday morning, I was just fighting to qualify and I never thought I would be able to pull this off,” Salinas said. “To be here right now in this moment, it’s not something I would ever thought would happen this soon. On raceday, anything can happen. Sometimes consistency is all you need to win, and I’m just there to race my race. I felt very lucky and when it’s your day, it’s your day.”

The Lucas Oil Lowdown

NHRA’s “DNA” Lucas Oil Drag Racing series racing during the Auto Club Finals included another significant win for Canadian racer Shawn Cowie.

Cowie prevailed for his 5th NHRA nationals title of the season when he won in the Surrey BC-based Mundies Towing-backed dragster – defeating Chris Demke’s similar supercharged dragster in the final round. Shawn, who also won the season opening event here at Pomona last February, carded a winning 5.275 secs at 277.09 mph, while Demke went .004 red.

(*Editor’s note — we will post additional detail on Shawn’s win – click : HERE coming soon)

Shawn Cowie (far lane) won his 18th career NHRA nationals title when he beat Chris Demke in the final round.

Home state California Shane Westerfield was the winner in TAFC – defeating Mike Doushgounian (also from CA) in that final round. Westerfield clocked a winning 5.493 secs at 268.97 mph to cover Doushgounian’s 5.627 secs at 262.23 mph.

Homestate California powerhouse racer Shane Westerfield was the TAFC winner at the AAA Auto Club Finals.

Sportsman titles also went to Doug Lambeck (Comp), Jeff Dona (Super Stock) and Jeff Taylor (Stock).

Doug Lambeck wheeled his Pontiac Sunfire to victory in Comp

Stock eliminator winner – Jeff Taylor

The event’s hard found index class title saw wins by Ryan McClanahan (Super Comp 8.90) and Steve Williams (Super Gas 9.90).

Steve Williams – won in the S/G 9.90 division with his K&N sponsored Corvette

The season ending NHRA event also included the invitation only Summit Racing World Finals for ET bracket racing – with the best drivers from each of NHRA seven geographical divisions being represented. Those World Champion titles went to Michael Sturgill (Super Pro), Chris Johnston (Pro), Ryan Montford (Sportsman) and Jim Werre (Pro Bike)

Tantamount Tribute!

One day after the completion of the 2019 NHRA Mello Mello season — racers, sponsors and dignitaries celebrated the season during the annual awards ceremony held at Hollywood’s Ray Dolby Ballroom.

Steve Torrence, Robert Hight, Jeg Coughlin, and Andrew Hines were crowned NHRA Mello Yello world champions in their respective classes during the Monday night’s gala event.

All four drivers were awarded checks and trophies to celebrate season-long achievements that culminated in winning 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championship titles during the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s playoffs.

Torrence captured his second consecutive Top Fuel world championship title after a thrilling weekend at the Auto Club NHRA Finals, taking home the title following the third round of eliminations at the Auto Club NHRA Finals. En route to the championship, Torrence raced to nine wins during the season, eight of which came during a nine race streak.

In the Funny Car class, Hight raced to his third world championship title. Hight clinched the championship in dramatic fashion during the final round at the Auto Club NHRA finals at Pomona after a thrilling half-track burnout. Hight raced to a career best six victories during the 2019 season, holding the points lead for 23 of 24 races on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series calendar.

3X NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car champion – Robert Hight

Clinching her third world championship, Enders took home the 2019 Pro Stock championship title following an intense on-track battle with Chris McGaha in the second round of the Auto Club NHRA Finals. Enders becomes just the third female in NHRA history to secure three championship titles, joining the likes of Shirley Muldowney and Angelle Sampey.

Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Hines captured the sixth world championship title of his career after a long day at the Auto Club NHRA Finals. The winningest rider in class history dominated the season with a career best eight wins, giving him 56 total career victories and 10 final round appearances during the 2019 season.

Top Fuel rookie Austin Prock took home the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future award, along with a $20,000 prize check. The award recognizes one of the top performing rookies during the season. Prock competed in all 24 events on the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello calendar, taking home his first win by defeating 2018 Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence. Prock claimed his first career win at the Magic Dry Organic Absorbent NHRA Northwest Nationals in Seattle. He also raced to five semi-final appearances and qualified a career high, third position, at the Heartland Nationals and Midwest Nationals. Other candidates up for the award were Cristian Cuadra (Pro Stock), Fernando Cuadra Jr. (Pro Stock), Cameron Ferre (Top Fuel), Lex Joon (Top Fuel), Jianna Salinas (Pro Stock Motorcycle), and Jordan Vandergriff (Top Fuel).

Chevrolet was honored during the event as the 2019 Manufacturers Cup winner. The season long battle was captured due to the success of 16-time Funny Car champion John Force and teammate Robert Hight. The Pro Stock class was represented by two-time world champion Erica Enders, Jeg Coughlin Jr., Jason Line, Greg Anderson, Bo Butner, Deric Kramer, Chris McGaha, Alex Laughlin, Matt Hartford, Kenny Delco, Fernando Cuadra, Val Smeland, Steve Graham, Wally Stroup, Joey Grose, Shane Grey, Shane Tucker, Roger Brogdon, and Fernando Cuadra Jr. This marks the 24th time Chevrolet has won the award and the third consecutive year for the manufacturer.

The NHRA Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to legendary crew chief Austin Coil. For 24 years Coil served as crew chief to John Force, helping to bring home 15 championship titles and 132 event wins, making the duo the winningest driver-crew chief combination in NHRA history.

Drivers from ten categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series were also recognized as 2019 world champions: Megan Meyer (Top Alcohol Dragster), Sean Bellemeur (Top Alcohol Funny Car), Frank Aragona Jr. (Competition Eliminator), Vic Penrod (Super Stock), Allison Doll (Stock), Ray Miller lll (Super Comp), Jeremy Mason (Super Gas), Danny Nelson (Top Dragster), Sandy Wilkins (Top Sportsman), Drew Skillman (SAM Factory Stock).

NHRA’s 2019 Lucas Oil World Champions!

Posted with files by NHRA Communications and Bruce Biegler
Photos by Randy Anderson/National Dragster – Auto Imagery and Bruce Biegler