NHRA’s very grueling and testing 2017 drag racing season came to a dramatic conclusion during the 53rd Annual Auto Club NHRA Finals held at iconic Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.
Leading up to the Finals, NHRA’s revised points and playoff formula did exactly what it was intended to do: provide fans with late-season drama.
The 2017 edition of the Auto Club NHRA Finals included significant Chevrolet brand developments, not the least being the first ever NHRA Pro Stock national championship for crossover Sportsman racer and now Chevrolet Camaro driver Bo Butner, as well as the end of recent DSR Funny Car class domination by the John Force Racing team and its team driver Robert Hight.
Butner’s Mello Yello Pro Stock title was about as dramatic as any fan could wish for. The entire season came down to the very last pairing of the year when Butner faced off against another Chevy Camaro raced by Tanner Gray. It was winner take all for Butner, and when he crossed the finish line first with a 6.554 e.t., not only did he win for the sixth time in 2017, he also edged out Greg Anderson’s Summit Racing Equipment Camaro for the World title.
Robert Hight’s Mello Yello World Championship in Funny Car was drama rich. He had entered the final event of the season leading in points, but it took his fourth and final qualifying run to just make it into the field. But when Robert won his second round match after his closest competitor (defending World Champion Ron Capps) lost to Del Worsham in the first round, the 2017 title was his. The elation was, however, tempered when Hight’s machine had a major engine explosion during his winning semi final run. The concussion from the explosion sent his AAA Auto Club Camaro into the opposite side guard wall and on into the top end sand trap at high speed, which necessitated his team to swap out both a new chassis and body for the event’s championship round. All that hard work refused to pay dividends as the untested combination was not able to hold off Tommy Johnson Jr., who won the AAA Auto Club Finals for the second year in a row.
Hight’s world championship was the first for Chevrolet in the NHRA Funny Car class in 10 years. The title was Hight’s career second, and with that he joined an elite group of names such as John Force, Kenny Bernstein, Don Prudhomme, Raymond Beadle, Matt Hagan, Frank Hawley, Cruz Pedregon, and Tony Pedergon as 2X NHRA Funny Car World champions.
The AAA Auto Club Finals also produced solid wins for Sportsman class racers competing in both the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and the Summit National ET Finals event tournament.
Steve Parson (Ridgecrest, California) won in Super Gas beating Mike Wiblishouser in an all-Chevy Corvette final. Oklahoma’s Robert Cruzen scored his first-ever national event win in Super Stock when he took his GT/EA Chevy Cavalier past defending World Champion Jimmy DeFrank in another all-Chevrolet final round.
Western New York’s Dan Fletcher continued his amazing winning ways when he racked up a win, taking the Competition Eliminator event title in his C/EA 2008 Cobalt. That was Fletcher’s 17th win in the class and the 102nd (!) of his remarkable career.
The event also featured wins in Top Alcohol Funny Car by California’s John Lombardo Jr., who beat Annie Whiteley to the stripe in an all-Camaro final round, and also for Houston’s Jason Patterson who prevailed to win the Summit Pro ET 2017 national championship driving his high-flying and fan favorite 1979 Camaro.
Photos by Bruce Biegler and Randy Anderson