POMONA — The streak is over.
Doug Kalitta defeated Steve Torrence for the Top Fuel race win Monday at the season-opening 59th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.
That ended defending Mello Yellow series champion Torrence’s streak of six straight race wins.
Torrence had won 27 straight elimination rounds heading into Monday’s finals.
Robert Hight won in Funny Car and Bo Butner won in Pro Stock and with that, the first race weekend of the National Hot Rod Association’s (NHRA) 2019 season is in the books.
It took a bit longer than planned because the final eliminations, originally scheduled for Sunday at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, were rained out.
But the rain stopped, the sun came out and Monday was a perfect day to wrap up the 59th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals.
San Jose’s Mike Salinas was stranded at the starting line when the rain ended Saturday’s action after only six Top Fuel elimination races were completed.
So Salinas, with Santa Maria’s Alan Johnson as his consultant and tuner, kicked Monday’s action off with a first round win over Clay Millican.
Salinas went on to oust rookie Austin Prock in the quarterfinals before a meeting with Torrence in the semis.
Salinas had the quicker pass but Torrence was faster off the starting line by 0.016-seconds, getting a hole shot win even though Salinas had a 3.687-second run against Torrence’s 3.688.
In the finals, Torrence and Kalitta were neck-and-neck when both drivers ran into trouble.
Torrence developed engine troubles while Kalitta’s dragster started to smoke.
“When it started to smoke, I thought we gave it away but I just kept going. I didn’t think of backing off. I was going to let it blow up and try for the win. I expected Steve was going to go by me but I guess he was having his own problems,” said Kalitta.
Kalitta became only the second Top Fuel pilot to win back-to-back Winternationals, joining Larry Dixon who went back-to-back in 2002 and 2003. It was Kalitta’s 45th career race win.
“This place has always been special to me. To win the Winternationals is always special,” said Kalitta. “My car was running strong all day. My team did an awesome job.”
Hight went one better, racing to his 46th career win, an .007-second margin of victory over Fast Jack Beckman in the finals.
It was another hole shot win.
Hight beat Beckman by 0.007-seconds off the line, finishing the side-by-side duel in 3.881-seconds at 329.75 miles per hour to Beckman’s 3.880 at 329.42.
“It’s hard to get a green hat (for being No. 1 qualifier) and a yellow hat (for the race win) in the same weekend,” said Hight. “There were a lot of cars running in the 3.80’s so you’ve got to be really consistent on the starting line. It’s a long year and I think our class is going to be tougher than ever. To be top qualifier and then to win the race is awesome.”
In what may be the shortest retirement on record, Butner walked away from Pro Stock competition at the end of last year only to come right back out of retirement to run again in 2019.
“My mother just turned 82 on Feb. 5 and she made the decision for me. She loves the fans and wanted me to come back, so here I am,” said Butner. “It’s amazing. We still have the same car, the same team. We were struggling through qualifying but everything came together today. I definitely thought we had the best car for all four rounds today.”
For the second straight Winternationals, Butner faced Summit Racing teammate Jason Line in the final round and repeated his 2018 victory. Butner crossed the finish line in 6.522-seconds at 211.59 mph to Line’s 7.160/148.58 when Line’s engine blew midway through the race.
Monday’s win was his eighth in Pro Stock.
“After winning last year’s Winternationals, I knew we had the car to keep winning but we just didn’t have the luck,” said Butner. “I don’t feel that way this year. I want to win them all.”
The NHRA starts and ends the season every year in Pomona.
The racers will be back in November for the season-ending Auto Club Finals.