NHRA’s 2020 Mello Yello drag racing campaign clicks off a gratifying start at fabled Auto Club Raceway…..

For the third straight time, Doug Kalitta took home a national event win at the 60th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com. Sunday’s win marks Kalitta’s 48th career win, placing him fifth in wins on the all-time Top Fuel list.

Jack Beckman (Funny Car) and Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock) also took home event wins in their respective categories, marking the first time in NHRA history that the winners from the Auto Club Finals also took home wins at the Winternationals.

Top Fuel veteran Kalitta went 3.698-seconds at 330.23 mph in his Mac Tools dragster to defeat JFR’s Austin Prock in the final round at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. Kalitta has won four of the last five races at the track and has advanced to five final rounds in a row at the Winternationals. Kalitta defeated Brandon Welch, Justin Ashley and former world champion Brittany Force to advance to the finals on Sunday.

“It’s been an interesting day for sure. A lot of close racing,” said Kalitta. “We have people up there trying to tear the tree down on you so you’re a little nervous about all that. It worked out well though. I’m just really proud of my guys. They busted their tails today. We tore up a little bit of parts here, but it was all good. The 60th is pretty special. Connie was here at the first one. I couldn’t be happier for him and the family and the legacy that’s been created out here. I’m just glad this is one of our better tracks.”

For the 3rd straight year – Doug Kalitta has won the season opening Lucas Oil Winternationals Top Fuel title.

In Funny Car, Beckman picked up a win after going 3.837-seconds at 333.33 in his Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. Beckman defeated Steven Densham, Ron Capps and Alexis DeJoria to advance to the final round, where he took the win over Funny Car legend John Force. Beckman captured his first ever career win at the Winternationals in 1998 in Super Comp. Sunday’s win marks Beckman’s 31st career Funny Car win, tying Del Worsham for eighth all time in class history.

“To beat John Force in the final, it’s a pretty cool weekend,” said Beckman. “It’s my home track. I’ve probably spent more time down there on the starting line than anybody else. I feel comfortable here. There were a lot of friends and family out here today. This a perfect storm. I had never won a nitro title at Pomona up until November last year and now I got two in a row. It’s beyond magical. You don’t know if your last win is your last win. I’m going to go out on a limb and say this isn’t our last win. The Infinite Hero team has been amazing. We were top two every run in qualifying, except for the first round. Our car was just absolutely amazing. As a driver, you don’t want to limp your way into the winner’s circle. It was awesome for us.”

Super star DSR team driver Jack Beckman roared to victory in fuel FC.

Coughlin kicked off his “Breaking Barriers 2020” retirement tour with a bang, taking home the event win with a 6.522-second pass at 210.80. Earlier in the weekend, Coughlin announced that he would be stepping down from professional Pro Stock racing at the conclusion of the 2020 season. He beat out Jason Line for the event win, who also announced that 2020 would be his final professional season. Coughlin defeated Joey Grose, Chris McGaha and Kenny Delco to advance to the final round at the 2020 Winternationals. Sunday’s win broke Coughlin’s 20 year win drought at the race, bringing him his 64th career Pro Stock win, placing him fourth on the all-time list.

Jeg Coughlin kicked off his apparent final season in Pro Stock with a huge win.

“It was quite a day. It started on Friday honestly, we’ll just call it quite a weekend,” said Coughlin. “Ricky Jones and Richard Freeman, the whole Elite team did a fantastic job over the winter. Today’s race was outstanding. I can’t recall a time in my 20 plus year career in Pro Stock that I was low for each and every one of the sessions and won the race. That’s quite a testament to the team. Hopefully it’s something we can hold on to for a little bit. It looks like we have a bit of a performance advantage here at Pomona and we were able to capitalize on it.”

The Pomona event also included the first of 10 season races for the M/T sponsored Top Fuel Harley division.

That popular nitro burning category featured a first ever circuit win when Randal Andras beat defending series champion Tii Tharpe in the final round. Andras (from Louisiana) recorded a winning time of 6.346 secs 191.62 mph to Tharpe’s 6.569 secs at 189.02 mph.

Andras was also the low qualifier (6.224 secs low ET) and he defeated Rich Vreeland and Tim Kerrigan in earlier completion.

After recording three previous runner-up finishes — Randal Andras had a rewarding first victory in Top Fuel Harley.

The Lucas Oil Lowdown

The top alcohol category winners at the season opening Lucas Oil Winternationals included both a familiar and new face in NHRA victory lane.

Canadian Shawn Cowie — who had won at Pomona’s AAA Auto Club Finals to close out the 2019 season last November — continued his winning ways at this facility — when he scored again in Top Alcohol Dragster — registering his 19th career national event win. (See separate Lucas Oil Hotzone Post for more details: HERE – coming soon)

Shawn Cowie (from Surrey BC) continued his amazing success at Auto Club Raceway — winning in TAD again!

In TAFC it was unheralded Aryan Rochon who emerged as a first time winner. Rochon, made the long tow from Florida to California and made that effort pay off big time when he upset Doug Gordon in the final round battle of Chevy Camaro cars. Rochon, a 100% independent racer, ran a winning 5.751 secs at 214.14 mph to win while Gordon, who was a heavy favourite for the title and who had qualified #1 (5.432 secs) succumbed to tire shake problems.

Aryan Rochon – scored a huge upset win in TAFC class completion.

Other Lucas Oil Sportsman racing titles went to Doug Lambeck in Comp eliminator, Justin Lamb in Super Stock and Brian McClanahan in Stock.

The Chevy cars raced by Brian McClanahan (top) and Justin Lamb scored wins in Stock and Super Stock respectively.

NHRA ran three indexes classes at the Pomona event for the first time ever when it included 10.90 S/ST competition. Gary Ericksen (from Vancouver WA) made history when he won that first title in his Ford Probe. Val Torres wheeled his ’63 Corvette to the S/G 9.90 title and it was Parker Theobald beating his brother Travis in the Super Comp 8.90 division trophy dash.

Val Torres won in Super Gas — his 7th career NHRA win.

Racing this Ford Probe Gary Erickson made history by becoming the very first S/ST 10.90 winner in Winternationals event history.

The hard fought “Top” titles went to Paul Nero in Top Dragster and to Don Meziere in Top Sportsman — who both recorded their 4th career national event scores.

Don Meziere won in the tough T/S class racing his Chevy Cobalt.

Paul Nero raced his RAD Torque Systems-sponsored car to the T/D title.

Posted with files by NHRA Communications and Bruce Biegler
Photos by Bruce Biegler

Link to the LMLCMedia Lucas Oil Winternationals event photo gallery presentation : HERE