What a Season … What a Final Race!
AS I SIT HERE, WORKING ON MY FINAL COLUMN OF THE YEAR, I CAN’T HELP BUT THINK ABOUT THE 2017 NHRA RACE SEASON AND THE AUTO CLUB FINALS.
After all of the years I've raced, I'm not the best spectator, but the NHRA Finals really held my attention. Talk about action and drama, a Hollywood scriptwriter couldn't have dreamed up a better ending for this season.
I'm happy for John Force Racing (JFR). He and his teams had one heck of a year. John's daughter, Brittany, did a great job in 2017. Unless you've been living in a cave, you know she won the Top Fuel World Championship—the first woman to do so since Shirley Muldowney's third title in 1982. Her driving steadily improved throughout the year. Prior to the countdown, she'd won a race and was low qualifier at several races, but once the playoffs started, she really came into her own: She won three and runnered-up once. Going into elims at the finals, she was down nine points to Steve Torrence, who had one hell of a season himself with eight wins. Talk about pressure, especially all she was putting on herself. I know firsthand that you don't want to disappoint your team, sponsors, fans or family. There's so much on the line, but she really stepped up. She and Torrence won their first rounds, and in the second, she beat Crampton, and Torrence lost a crusher to Antron Brown. The championship was hers. Some thought once the pressure was off she'd slack off a bit, but no. Brittany kept her focus and won the race. It was a heck of a season. Congrats also to Alan Johnson and Brittany's crew chief, Brian Husan.
Talk about drama, Brittany's teammate Robert Hight really kept everybody guessing. After an up-and-down season that saw him, Jimmy Prock and Chris Cunningham reel off record-breaking speeds and ETs, going into the finals, he had a 20-point lead over Ron Capps. Capps, like Torrence, had a great season, leading in the points by a large margin for most of the year.
Well, Hight couldn't get down the track and just barely qualified 15th on his final pass. Whatever the problem was, the crew found it and Hight ran a 3.83 first round to win. Capps and Rahn Tobler had been steady all season, but came up short and Hight won his second championship.
His first, with Jimmy
Prock, was in 2009. Congratulations to Triple A and Tom McKernan.
On paper, you'd have thought it would be Courtney Force winning a championship. She went to five final rounds (three in the countdown) and qualified #1 seven times. But all of the necessary pieces didn't fall into place for her this season.
I can't forget John Force. Winning the Gators this year marked the 30th season he's won at least one race. In Funny Car,
JFR finished 1 (Hight), 3 (Courtney) and 7 (John) in final points totals. The two championships bring the team's total to 20. Congrats to all involved.
And how about Pro Stock champ Bo Butner— what a nail-biter—winning the championship in the final round of the final race? He was 53 points down to Greg Anderson going into Pomona. I wouldn't have given him a chance, but he ended up beating Anderson in the semis. In the finals, he met that kid Tanner Gray who's been leaving on everybody this season. He did it again, but Butner caught up and beat him. He took the championship by seven points.
It was also a great year for Terry McMillen and Clay Millican. Millican had been a killer in IHRA T/F racing, he'd won six straight world championships, but in NHRA, he'd run very well, but never broke into the winner's circle. In Bristol, he finally scored his first NHRA win. McMillen had been battling for eight or nine years for his first NHRA win and finally got one at Vegas. They both have developed strong programs and should see more wins in 2018.
Once again, unfortunately, I close on a dark note. Recently, we lost Gas Ronda and Bett Henry. They will be missed. We also lost this magazine's first editor, Scott Cochran. To those who knew him, Cochran was quite a character. Current and long-time Managing Editor Michelle Salcedo also worked with him for many years and remembers a lot of crazy and hilarious times around the office. Cochran was good people, and he'll be missed.
I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving and a Merry Christmas. May the New Year bring you all good things. Thanks for riding along for another year.