The highly anticipated 2018 season-opening event for NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing was held at fabled Auto Club Raceway….

The 58th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by featured ferocious competition as well as some wild incidents as Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel) and Bo Butner (Pro Stock) were victorious in their respective categories at the first of 24 events for this season.

Matt Hagan took home the Funny Car victory with a 3.823-second pass at 335.90 mph in his Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T to defeat defending world champion Robert Hight in the final round.

Matt Hagan won in fuel FC when he scored his 27th career win in the DSR Dodge Charger

Hagan defended his Winternationals crown after winning the season-opening event last season en route to a four-win campaign, as he now increases his career win total to 27.

“Keeping our team upbeat, confident and starting the year up on a positive note is good for our team to set goals, no matter how hard they may be to obtain,” Hagan said. “Everything was clicking this weekend and even more than the parts and pieces it’s about having the right guys to use what we have. So far we’ve done it well.”

After qualifying in the pole position (3.822 secs), Hagan took down Jim Campbell, Cruz Pedregon, and Ron Capps on the road to victory.

Hight qualified second and defeated Jeff Diehl, J.R. Todd and Jack Beckman as he recorded his 24th career runner-up finish.

Doug Kalitta powered to the win with a run of 3.779 at 324.28 in his Mac Tools dragster to take down Tony Schumacher. After finishing as the runner-up at the 2017 Winternationals, Kalitta emerged victorious at the season-opening event for the second time in his career.

Doug Kalitta won in Top Fuel with his Mac Tools dragster

“I tip my hat to my guys because I couldn’t do it without him and it’s really special to get a win at a track with so much history,” Kalitta said. “We feel like we have the team in place to have a successful season but I’m really proud of Jim Oberhofer (crew chief) and what he has done for all of our teams.”

Kalitta qualified fifth and took down teammate Richie Crampton, Scott Palmer, and No. 1 qualifier Clay Millican (3.628 secs – national ET record) en route to his 44th career win.

Tony Schumacher reached his first final round since Atlanta last season, after besting Terry McMillen, Terry Haddock, and Antron Brown.

The opening round of TF racing featured a very scary incident which sent defending 2017 NHRA World Champion Brittany Force to hospital for observation after she lost control and crashed her Monster Energy machine. Force’s injuries were thankfully minor however her dragster was severely damaged.

Defending NHRA World Champion had this major incident during season round one of Top Fuel racing!

In Pro Stock, Butner took home the victory after driving to a 6.549 at 209.62 run in his Jim Butner’s Auto Chevy Camaro to take down teammate Jason Line in the final round. He locked in his sixth career victory as he attempts to defend his Pro Stock world championship this season.

“Both my crew and my car have been running smooth recently, and we are just trying to keep riding that wave,” Butner said. “I feel great in this car and I have all the confidence in the world in my crew.”

Butner entered Sunday sixth in qualifying before taking down Tanner Gray, Greg Anderson, and Erica Enders as his 2018 title defense started in victorious fashion.

Bo Butner got his Pro Stock World championship season defence off to a great start with a big win in his Chevy Camaro

The Lucas Oil Winternationals event also included the first season stop for the M/T  Top Fuel Harley Division and that produced the first career NHRA win for veteran racer Doug Vancil.

Vancil, who was aboard the Vance & Hines entry had a clean sweep of the compeition – qualifying #1 at 6.304 secs at 231.04 mph to set low ET and top speed and then defeateing Randal Andras, Beau Layne and Rickey House in consective rounds on Sunday.

The M/T Harley Davidson class produced a dominating win for Doug Vancil

The Lucas Oil Winternationals was proudly presented by Lucas Oil Director of Marketing Manny Gutierrez (left) and Protect the Harvest’s Eric Whitley who were the Grand Marshall and Honorary Starter – respectively.

The Lucas Oil Lowdown

NHRA’s Lucas Oil Sportsman racing was highlighted by a huge win in Top Alcohol Dragster by Canadian Shawn Cowie who continued is impressive winning ways at Auto Club Pomona Raceway.

Cowie, who also won the NHRA Finals here last November was a tower of power again in the Surrey BC-based Mundies Towing TAD. After qualifying 4th – he beat Joey Severence, Chris Demke, Randy Eakins and finally Garrett Bateman to earn his 11th career win at the NHRA national event level.

Shawn Cowie took the event’s Lucas Oil TAD title back to Canada!

Other final round results were:

Top Alcohol Funny Car — Shane Westerfield, Chevy Camaro, 5.425, 269.67 def. Ulf Leanders, Camaro, 5.508, 268.33.

Competition Eliminator– Dan Fletcher, Chevy Cobalt, 8.344, 132.86 def. Clint Neff, Roadster, Foul – Red Light.

Dan Fletcher won in Comp for the 17th time in his career

NHRA Lucas Oil TAFC World champ Shane Westerfield won racing his Chevy Camaro

Super Stock– Kyle Rizzoli, Chevy Camaro, 9.579, 133.55 def. Adam Emmer, Olds Cutlass, 10.120, 125.89.

Stock Eliminator — Larry Gilley, Dodge Dart, 10.627, 121.27 def. Ryan Mangus, Chevy Camaro, 10.664, 122.73.

Larry Gilley (top) and Kyle Rizzoli won in Stock and Super Stock respectively


Super Comp — Gabriel Torres, Dragster, 8.922, 165.46 def. Val Torres., Dragster, 8.941, 176.26.

Super Gas — Kevin McClelland, ’27-T Ford, 9.924, 149.22 def. Phil Unruh, Chevy Cobalt, 9.899, 159.29.

Top Dragster presented by — Steve Will, Dragster, 6.043, 234.13 def. Kyle Seipel, Dragster, 6.862, 197.74.

Top Sportsman presented by — Paul Mitsos, Dodge Stratus, 7.098, 191.21 def. Don Meziere, Chevy Cobalt, Foul – Red Light.

TD class winner – Steve Will

Posted with files by NHRA Communications and Bruce Biegler

All photos by Bruce Biegler

View DragRaceCanada’s Lucas Oil Winternationals event photo gallery: HERE