POMONA — Brittany Force’s dream has come true and, along with it, Santa Maria’s Alan Johnson picked up his 16th National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) world championship.
Meanwhile, San Luis Obispo native Ron Capps’ hopes of winning back-to-back Funny Car world championships came to a sudden end.
It was the NHRA’s championship Sunday at the 53rd annual NHRA Auto Club Finals — the sixth and final race of the Mello Yello Chase for the Championship — at Auto Club Speedway in Pomona.
Force, Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Bo Butner (Pro Stock) won world championships Sunday. Only Pro Stock Motorcycle’s Eddie Krawiec had a championship in hand before Sunday’s final eliminations, wrapping that up at the end of qualifying Saturday evening.
Force, Butner, Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were Sunday’s race winners.
The battles for Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro stock were neck-and-neck heading into Sunday’s eliminations — a two person race between Force and Steve Torrence in Top Fuel, another two person race between Capps and Hight in Funny Car and a three-man race for the Pro Stock championship among KB Racing teammates Butner, Greg Anderson and defending series champion Jason Line.
When Torrence lost to 2016 Top Fuel world champion Antron Brown in the quarterfinal round and Force subsequently eliminated Richie Crampton, it wrapped up Force’s first world title, making her the second woman, after the legendary Shirley Muldowney in 1982, to ever win a Top Fuel world championship.
Alan Johnson is the consultant to John Force Racing’s Top Fuel program.
“I can’t believe we are here. It just seems like a dream — a dream come true,” said Force. “We struggled at times. We had our ups and downs but all the credit in the world goes to Alan Johnson and (crew chief) Brian Husen. They kept pushing me. They kept me fighting. They always had my back. They’re the ones that made this possible.”
After crossing the finish line to win the world championship, Force’s father, the legendary 16 time world champion John Force was, for one of the few times in his life, speechless.
But when he gained his composure, John Force said, “I’m so proud of her. I lost it at the starting line when she won. I can’t even imagine how all this happened. A lot of the credit goes to Alan Johnson and Brian Husen.”
With the win, Johnson ties John Force atop the NHRA’s all-time leaderboard. He now has 12 national championships in Top Fuel and four more in Top Alcohol as a team owner, manager, crew chief and now consultant.
“This championship is right up there with our best. It’s really been a fun year. We made a lot of good runs at the end,” said Johnson. “We fought the Torrence team to the end. Brittany and our crew worked real hard. Steve’s team had some unfortunate runs near the end of the year and Brittany took advantage.”
But for the Central Coast’s other title contender, Capps’ dream season had a nightmarish ending.
Hight, who barely qualified for Sunday’s final eliminations knocked out Tim Wilkerson in the opening round of Funny Car eliminations.
Capps had to match Hight win-for-win to maintain any chance of capturing his second straight world championship.
Racing against Del Worsham in the opening round, Capps’ dream died when his car didn’t respond properly at the start which gave Worsham the round win and Hight the season title.
“It rattled at the start and I gave it the pedal,” said Capps. “We had a great season but it just wasn’t meant to be. It hurts a lot to win eight races but lose the championship.”
“Capps won eight — he needed nine,” said Hight. “It’s been an eventful weekend but we got it together. We didn’t even qualify until the final round of qualifying and we got the 15 spot. And if you get in, you’ve got a chance.”
Hight’s eventful day continued after assuring himself the world championship.
Hight defeated John Force Racing teammate Courtney Force in the semifinals but, as he crossed the finish line, his engine exploded. His car took a hard left and slammed into the wall. Only one of his two braking parachutes opened and Hight zoomed through the safety sand box into the netting at the far back of the track.
“I couldn’t see a thing. I couldn’t keep it off the wall or out of the sand. Then the whole team came together and put a new body on the car for the final round,” said Hight.
Hight met Tommy Johnson Jr. in the finals.
Tommy Johnson also spent time in the sand earlier in the day when his chute didn’t deploy after his quarterfinal win over Alexis DeJoria in the final race of the retiring DeJoria's career.
“What a great job my crew did today,” said Tommy Johnson. “We had to replace the body and the one they put on was the one we had on the car when we won here last year. It was one of the final times that we were able to take a picture with Terry Chandler after we won a race. It was only fitting that we won with that body.”
Chandler sponsored both Johnson’s Make A Wish Foundation and Fast Jack Beckman’s Infinite Heroes Funny Cars. She died from brain cancer earlier this year.
In Pro Stock, Anderson began the day with a 53-point lead on Butner and an 80-point lead over Line.
All three made it to the semifinals where Line squared off against likely Rookie of the Year Tanner Gray and Butner had a showdown against Anderson.
Line’s shot at defending his title ended when he red-lighted against Gray in the semis.
When Butner knocked out Anderson in the semis, it cut Anderson’s lead to 23 points.
With 30 more points on the line in the finals, Butner had to beat Gray to win his first world championship.
Gray got the jump on Butner at the start but his car began to rattle and swerve to the right. By the time Gray recovered, Butner caught and then passed him to win the final race of the season and claim his first world championship.
“What a great, great team. Both Greg and Jason deserved to win. This was a great win, a great year for our KB Racing team,” said Butner. “I thought we could do it from day one. I was very fortunate things went my way. It’s awesome — the biggest honor is to win a world championship.”
Teammates also faced off in the Pro Stock Motorcycle finals when Andrew Hines raced Krawiec.
Hines won by a nose for his first race win of the season but it gave him enough points to finish the year in second place.
“That final round was dramatic from the start. I was having clutch problems. I’m willing to bet when we pull the bike apart, my clutch will probably be broken in half,” said Hines. “I couldn’t believe it. I beat LE in the semis and Eddie in the finals and wound up finishing in second place for the season.”
As always track announcer Alan Reinhardt gets the last word when, after all the champions took to the podium, Reinhardt told the fans who’s flooded the track, “We’ll see you again in 80 days when the 2018 season starts right here in Pomona.”