Leah Pritchett, a Redlands, Calif. native, earned the second Top Fuel victory of her career at the 57th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals on Sunday at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, her home track.
Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) also had wins in their respective categories at the first event of 24 on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.
Pritchett, who was also the No. 1 qualifier of the event, piloted her Papa John’s Pizza dragster to a 3.711-second pass at 324.98 mph to defeat Doug Kalitta and his Mac Tools dragster’s 7.630 at 103.85 after smoking the tires at the start.
“This definitely is taking delivery from the momentum from last year,” Pritchett said. “What just happen is the best thing that has ever happened for me professionally in my career. In my opinion, right now, we have the perfect group of people, partners, sponsors, a car that is reacting. This thing is ‘A+’, Grade A, perfect kid in school type of situation and we’re taking advantage of it right now.”
Pritchett defeated Steve Torrence and eight-time champion Tony Schumacher en route to the finals. Kalitta, who was in his third consecutive final at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, bettered Terry McMillen and three-time and reigning world champion Antron Brown.
Hagan raced to his 23rd Funny Car victory with a 3.875 at 330.07 in his Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T. He defeated Courtney Force who ran a 3.901 at 326.95 in the final for his second win at the Circle K NHRA Winternationals, he also won in 2015.
“It’s a real special race for me, a lot of stuff happened over the off season, with losing my brother,” said Hagan, who came into eliminations as the No. 1 qualifier. “We came out motivated. My lights have been great, the car has been great and my team has been great. We just have got a real powerhouse team right now. We just have to keep some of this momentum going.”
On his way to the finals Hagan powered past teammates Jack Beckman and Ron Capps, the defending world champion. Force took out J.R. Todd, who was racing in his first event in a Funny Car, and father and team owner John Force.
In Pro Stock, Line started his championship defense with a victory over teammate Greg Anderson. Line ran a 6.568 at 211.10 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro for his 46th career victory and 14th consecutive season with at least one win. Anderson ran a 6.579 at 211.56 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro.
“It’s a good way to start the season,” Line said. “Anytime you come to Pomona and win it’s great. I’m very excited, very happy and a little bit relieved. Just a great day for KB Racing and the Summit Cars. To be able to come here and qualify one and two and finish one and two and have three cars in the semis. That’s just a big deal.”
On his way to victory, Line, who has five victories at the Circle K NHRA Winternationals, took out rookie Tanner Gray and KB Racing teammate Bo Butner while Anderson faced veteran Jeg Coughlin Jr. and two-time world champion Erica Enders.
The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season continues February 24-26 at the NHRA Arizona Nationals being held at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz.