On the final day of the 2016 drag-racing season, drivers in the pro stock and pro stock motorcycle classes collected enough points to clinch world championships, while four other Mello Yello participants ended their year on a high note with victories at the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona.
Jason Line took his third title in pro stock after defeating Erica Enders-Stevens in the semifinals. That gave him enough of a cushion over teammate Greg Anderson, who came out of qualifying down 23 points.
“I’m glad I got those little points in qualifying, or else you’d be talking to Greg right now,” Line said in a post-race press conference. “I’m very relieved.”
Line was the top seed on Sunday and avoided any slip-ups when he was most vulnerable to an upset en route to mathematically eliminating Anderson from championship contention.
Though it wasn’t what he wanted, Anderson did receive a consolation prize against Line, besting him on a holeshot in the last run to win the Pomona event.
“I can’t cry, I did all I could do today,” Anderson said. “Great fight all year. We had some great battles.”
In the pro stock motorcycle category, Jerry Savoie clinched his first-ever season championship after his two closest competitors — Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines — narrowly lost to their opponents in the second elimination round.
“To make this all possible, it wasn’t even a dream — it wasn’t something I thought I could even reach for,” Savoie.
Savoie entered Sunday just four points ahead of Krawiec and 11 points ahead of Hines. He anticipated he’d have to make it to the finals at Pomona to have a chance at a title, but that turned out to be unnecessary (he lost in the semifinal round to Angelle Sampey).
Savoie’s rise to the top was swift and unusual — his first season on the NHRA circuit was in 2011, and his first career victory came just two years ago. He works a day job as an alligator farmer, which he believes is beneficial on the racetrack.
“An alligator farm is not just raising alligators — you’ve got to catch them and handle them, you’re flying helicopters, so everything is a reaction,” Savoie said. “So yeah, it’s all related with how quick you are.”
Sampey stopped Savoie from a clean sweep at Pomona, but fell to Matt Smith in the last round. It was Smith’s first win at an NHRA event in three years.
Ron Capps and Antron Brown already emerged victorious in the Countdown to the Championship for funny car and top-fuel, respectively, but neither came out on top at Pomona. Capps was eliminated in round two by John Force, while Brown lost to top qualifier J.R. Todd in the semifinals.
Instead, the runners-up in the playoff points standings picked up wins. Tommy Johnson Jr. barely got by Force in the funny-car final, hitting a time of 3.918 seconds. His second-place overall finish is a career high.
“If you’re going to beat somebody, might as well be him,” Johnson Jr. said of his matchup against Force. “I’m not going to say it’s better than beating somebody else, but yeah, maybe it is.”
Thanks to a quicker reaction time at the starting line (.063 seconds compared to .112 seconds), Doug Kalitta edged J.R. Todd in top-fuel. Kalitta was far behind Brown points-wise, but he overtook Steve Torrence in the Countdown to the Championship with his performance this weekend.
“I’ve been trying to win this thing for a long time, and the history here … to be able to win the day was huge for me and everybody on the team,” Kalitta said.