POMONA, Calif. -
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also claimed world championships in their respective categories at the final race of the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. The race winners of the final event of the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season were Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) and Jianna Salinas (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
"The most important run of my life was in the semifinals against Matt Hagan," Hight said. "When it comes down to one run to win a championship, how will you perform? My heart was beating out of my chest, but we got it done. This has just been the steadiest year I've ever had and that's a real tribute to this team. It's amazing and I'm the luckiest guy in the world to drive this Funny Car. To win six races, lead the points with the competition level in Funny Car, I'm going to cherish this championship the most because we earned it. We did our job."
Hight, who becomes just the fifth driver in class history to earn a third title, beat teammate John Force and then Shawn Langdon to set up the showdown with Hagan, advancing to his ninth final round in 2019. His season included a career-best six victories, giving him 51 in his career, while Hight was consistently impressive all year, leading in points at 23 of the 24 races.
"I've never won Funny Car at Pomona, so that was awesome," Beckman said. "If you win at (the World Finals), the off-season is going to be fantastic. They've given me such a great racecar lately, and finished a solid second, ended the year with a win and we've got a phenomenal car. Things are awesome right now. I'm feeling on top of the world, to be honest with you."
"It's been really special to be part of a team that goes out and has the success we've had," Torrence said. "It's really special to win one championship, much less two and to do it back-to-back. I knew what we had to do and we were going to decide who had the best chance at it in the second round. The guys prevailed and gave me the racecar, and I did the job I needed to do when I needed to do it. Our group of guys has been together for years and that continuity is what has been a key recipe to our success."
It capped off another remarkable season for the Texan, as Torrence was again in control for most of the year. He finished with nine Top Fuel wins, including a dominant stretch of eight wins in a nine-race span. Torrence, who won 11 races a year ago en route to his first title, also advanced to 14 final rounds in 2019, as he now has 36 wins and 55 finals appearances in his career. His playoff victory in Charlotte gave him the points lead for good, as Torrence's path to the championship included three finals in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
"It was fun, for sure," Kalitta said. "I was real proud of the effort we put in today. We gave it all we could and it's definitely still on our list to win a championship. I was real proud of my guys today coming out of here with a win, and I love running here in Pomona. It's a great team effort we got going on here, so I'll keep digging."
"This one means a lot because of the valleys we've been through," Enders said. "It was a challenge for us and I'm thrilled. It's just an awesome feeling to be back on top, and it's the reason why you never give up. Today ended up being a great day with us locking up our third championship and my teammate, Jeg Coughlin, winning the race and solidifying the second position. For everyone at Elite Motorsports to take home the top two positions in NHRA Pro Stock, it's a huge thrill for us. We take a lot of pride in what we do and it paid off this year. I'm just really proud."
By winning a third championship, Enders ties Shirley Muldowney and Angelle Sampey for the most titles in NHRA history by a female. On the strength of two wins and three No. 1 qualifiers in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, Enders also became the lowest seed to win a title in Pro Stock history after starting from fifth. She heads into 2020 with 25 career wins.
"It was a tough raceday and there was a lot of emotions going on, but it was a great weekend," Coughlin said. "It felt really good today to bring home the win, and a double win with Erica bringing home the championship and with us securing the No. 2 position. To have 2020 be the 50th year for Pro Stock, it's going to be exciting. I think the class right now is looking extremely good."
"I put my team in such a bad situation and I chalked it up that we're done," Hines said. "It was just absolute insanity. It was a total, utter disappointment on my behalf and a bitter pill to swallow. This was one of the craziest days ever and the final round was absolutely astonishing. But the reason why we're here right now is what my team did all season long. It wasn't just this race, it was what my guys did all year."
Hines was dominant throughout 2019, putting together the best season in his standout career, setting the E.T. mark in the class and winning a career-best eight races. The winningest driver in class history now has 56 career victories and he also advanced to 10 final rounds this year.
"On Saturday morning, I was just fighting to qualify and I never thought I would be able to pull this off," Salinas said. "To be here right now in this moment, it's not something I would ever thought would happen this soon. On raceday, anything can happen. Sometimes consistency is all you need to win, and I'm just there to race my race. I felt very lucky and when it's your day, it's your day."
The 2020 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season will kick off with the 60th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by ProtecttheHarvest.com Feb. 6-9 at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
Sunday's final results from the 55th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. The race is the final of 24 in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series-
Top Fuel -- Doug Kalitta, 3.716 seconds, 332.67 mph def. Richie Crampton, 4.884 seconds, 154.28 mph.
Funny Car -- Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.920, 323.27 def. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, Broke.
Pro Stock -- Jeg Coughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.558, 210.54 def. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.604, 209.72.
Pro Stock Motorcycle -- Jianna Salinas, Suzuki, 7.464, 180.81 def. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, Broke.
Top Alcohol Dragster -- Shawn Cowie, 5.275, 277.09 def. Chris Demke, Foul - Red Light.
Top Alcohol Funny Car -- Shane Westerfield, Chevy Camaro, 5.493, 268.97 def. Mike Doushgounian, Camaro, 5.627, 262.23.
Competition Eliminator -- Doug Lambeck, Pontiac Sunfire, 8.324, 161.25 def. David Rampy, Roadster, 7.205, 183.57.
Super Stock -- Jeff Dona, Pontiac Firebird, 9.750, 131.45 def. Dan Fletcher, Chevy Camaro, 10.088, 130.15.
Stock Eliminator -- Jeff Taylor, Chevy Camaro, 9.216, 136.50 def. Kyle Rizzoli, Camaro, Foul - Red Light.
Super Comp -- Ryan McClanahan, Dragster, 8.933, 169.27 def. Allison McKoane, Dragster, 8.897, 173.16.
Super Gas -- Steve Williams, Chevy Corvette, 9.870, 174.48 def. Steve Parsons, Corvette, 9.852, 171.47.
Summit Super Pro -- Michael Sturgill, Dragster, 7.585, 177.56 def. Dave Meziere, Chevy Cavalier, Foul - Red Light.
Summit Pro -- Chris Johnston, Pontiac Firebird, 16.846, 47.44 def. Brian Hughes, Ford Pinto, Foul - Red Light.
Summit Sportsman -- Ryan Montford, Pontiac Grand Prix, 12.096, 109.36 def. Jake Ball, Pontiac Astre, 12.394, 106.07.
Summit Pro Bike -- Jim Werre, 9.588, 141.12 def. Jason Clampitt, Foul - Red Light.