The 50th annual AAA of Southern California NHRA Finals featured cool very comfortable southern California blue skies on race day. These conditions brought out some spectacular on track performances throughout the event and drew some of the largest crowds seen in recent years to witness the crowning of champions in the four professional categories.
In Top Fuel, it was none other than Tony “the Sarge” Schumacher and his US Army Dragster team capturing his eighth career title. His only remaining goal was to put a final stamp on the season by closing out the final event with a win. He came in qualified with a 3.761 elapse time in a field that required a 3.745 or better to get into the top 5 spots, so he would have a battle to get to the final round. He took out Larry Dixon (3.749 to 3.765), Richie Crampton (3.752 to 3.763) and JR Todd (3.770 to 3.824) to get to the final round. On the other side of the eliminations ladder was part timer Morgan Lucas, who had minimized his racing to spend more time with his family. He took out Billy Torrance (3.745 to 3.766), 2013 champion Shawn Langdon (3.903 to 4.986) and 2012 champion Antron Brown (3.707 to 3.742) to get into the final. In the final, Schumacher got away first (0.034 to 0.54 reaction time), but Lucas thundered by him quickly, taking the win with an amazing 3.704 at 325.14 mph to 3.742 at 324.98 mph. His last two runs were the second (and quickest run of the season) and third quickest runs in Top Fuel history.
The Funny Car category had the potential for some serious dramatics as two of the NHRA’s premier drivers and teams would be squaring off for the 2014 championship; Matt Hagan vs. John Force. Hagan’s side of the eliminations ladder featured some of the strongest cars (second and third qualifiers with Hagan being sixth). On Force’s side of the ladder it featured some equally strong race cars (first and fourth qualifiers with Force being fifth). Hagan had three of his teammates on his side of the ladder (Ron Capps, Tommy Johnson and Jack Beckman) and Force had two of his teammates (Robert Hight and Courtney Force) on his side. At the end of the first round Hagan, Capps, Johnson, Force and Hight were still left standing. Hagan in his Rocky Boots/Mopar Dodge would need to keep pace with Force in his Castrol GTX/Ford Mustang, as Force would need to go one more round than Hagan, to have a chance at the championship. In the second round, Hagan squared off against Ron Capps in his Napa Dodge and took the win light with the slowest winning elapse time of the round, 4.081 at 314.83 mph to a tire smoking 6.801 at 100.94 mph.
Force raced his way around Tim Wilkerson in his Levi, Ray and Shoup Ford Mustang with a 4.031 at 318.62 mph to 4.101 at 313.00 mph run, but would lose the important lane choice for the next round when Alexis Dejoria (Force’s semi-final round opponent) in her Patron XO Toyota took out Robert Hight and his AAA Ford Mustang with a 4.012 at 313.80 mph to a tire smoking 5.317 at 149.93 mph.
In the final, Hagan and Force would square off for the event title. With the crowd all standing, Hagan got away first (0.049 to 0.063), but Force quickly made up the difference and looked like he would take the win light by nearly a car length until his engine exploded nearing the finish line, allowing Hagan to go by for the win (4.076 at 310.77 mph to 4.086 at 276.58 mph).
The Pro Stock category featured the greatest dramatics seen in recent years as Erica Enders-Stevens had a chance to be the first woman driver to win a championship in the category and the third to win a championship in any NHRA professional category. She was battling Jason Line for the Pro Stock championship. And as fate would have it and to the total delight of all the fans, they would meet in the final round for a “winner take all battle.” Both drivers performed amazing feats throughout eliminations to get to the final round, matching each other (elapse time wise) round by round. In her semi-final round match up against Johnathan Gray, Enders-Stevens took the win 6.494 at 213.67 mph to 6.524 at 212.29 mph. But, that run was historical in that for the only time in the history of the sport, both drivers left the starting line with perfect (0.000 second) reaction times. In the final round, Line in his Summit Camaro (ran a 6.496, 6.519 and 6.511) would take on Enders-Stevens in her Elite Motorsports Camaro (ran 6.94 throughout eliminations) and the competitive intensity was peaking. When the starting lights sequenced, both drivers were amped up and left early. Line left first (-0.011 to -0.002). Under the first or worst rule, Enders-Stevens took the win, as both drivers “red lighted” but Line “red lighted” first. Erica Enders-Stevens became the first woman in the history of the sport to win the Pro Stock season championship.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Andrew Hines made Harley Davidson fans happy when he clinched the championship by advancing to the second round of eliminations. His teammate, Eddie Krawiec finished second for the season. Hector Arana Jr. won the event on his Lucas Oil Buell with a strong 6.832 at 195.08 mph final round effort over Krawiec, who went 6.977 at 176.37mph.
The 2015 NHRA season kicks off on Feb. 5-8 at Pomona Raceway with the Circle K Winter Nationals.