Matt Smith

(Photos and videos courtesy NHRA)

NHRA: Capps (FC), Line (PS), Savoie (PSM) join Brown (TF) as 2016 champs

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The NHRA promised a tremendous weekend at the season-ending Auto Club Finals in Pomona, California.

And boy, did it deliver.

Two of the best human interest stories that the sport has seen in a long time came true as Funny Car veteran Ron Capps and Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Jerry Savoie captured their first respective championships.

In addition, veteran Pro Stock driver Jason Line earned his third championship, capping off a dominating season.

(Antron Brown, meanwhile, had already clinched his second consecutive Top Fuel title – and third championship in the last five seasons – two weeks ago at Las Vegas.)

In addition, ending the season with event wins were Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Capps and Savoie were arguably the NHRA’s Cinderella champions this season. After 20 seasons of trying, Capps earned his first career Funny Car championship on Saturday.

“I almost gave up the chance of trying so hard and wishing so hard and just focused on winning races,” said Capps, who was the series runner-up in 1998, 2000, 2005 and 2012. “With all the accolades I got this year – my 50th career win, passing some people I really looked up to in the sport with wins – that’s mind-boggling for me.

“This was the toughest Funny Car class ever and the 50th anniversary of the Funny Car, which was awesome. What a great, great season.”

And Savoie capped off an incredible story with his first PSM championship. During the week, Savoie rides herd as a “farmer” over nearly 60,000 alligators in his native Louisiana.

Savoie was a aspiring motorcycle drag racer in his late teens and early 20s until he climbed off his bike for the next 30 years to raise a family and build up his business.

He returned to racing in 2011 and Sunday, at the age of 57, capped off the biggest achievement on two wheels in his life by winning the title. Savoie clinched the championship when he reached the semifinals after former champs and teammates Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec lost in the quarterfinals.

“To only dream of winning one race and to come out here and put a deal together with the support of Vance & Hines and my crew and to win the championship is amazing,” Savoie said. “I went to church this morning and the word was encouragement and to get encouraged from the people that inspire you.

“I want to thank everybody, especially the fans. Without these guys, this would not be possible; you make our dreams come true, and those guys are my family.”

Line, meanwhile, clinched his third career championship by reaching the semifinal round Sunday, holding off KB Racing/Summit teammate Greg Anderson.

“It’s been a great year and thanks to all of our competitors; they kept us honest and made us work hard right to the end,” said Line, who also won the world title in 2006 and 2011. “I have to thank all the Summit guys, Ken Black, and all of them.

“It has been an incredible season and I can’t believe I didn’t actually mess it up.  It is such an honor to be up here. We have had a great car all year. Greg [Anderson] and I have had probably the two best cars all year. If it had ended any other way, I would have been disappointed.”

Line and Anderson each won eight of the season’s 24 races, with Line leading the points following 22 of those 24 events.

As for Sunday’s final race results, Kalitta defeated J.R. Todd to capture Top Fuel honors, earning his fourth win of the season and 42nd of his career.

“I’ve been trying to win this last race for a long time,” said Kalitta, nephew of drag racing legend Connie Kalitta. “The history here for me, growing up watching Connie race over the years and to be able to win today was huge for me and for everybody on the team.

“It was very cool that [Todd] and I were both in the final and got to run for the money there. It will be good momentum for all of our teams and we finished off the season with some good runs.”

Johnson, who finished the year a career-best second in the standings, defeated 16-time Funny Car champion John Force in Sunday’s final round for his third win of the season and 15th of his career.

“We had fallen down to third and we came here and knew we wanted to get back to second; we knew we could do that,” Johnson said. “You want to finish strong and show you are there to contend. You want to end on a high note because it kind of sets the tone for next season.”

In Pro Stock, Anderson defeated Line in the final round, but Line had already clinched the championship at that point. It was Anderson’s eighth win of the season, 86th of his season and sixth in the Finals.

“Great day; I can’t cry,” Anderson said. “I did all I could do today, I did everything I could possibly do today. … Still a great fight. Great fight all year. We had some great battles.

“During the last half of the year the rest of the class got in and we had some great battles with them. We overachieved this year and we’re leaving here happy.”

Lastly, in Pro Stock Motorcycle, Matt Smith earned his first win since 2013, defeating Angelle Sampey.

“We haven’t had the best season in the world,” Smith said. “We’ve had a fast bike but we’ve had a lot of electrical problems and transmission issues. We finally solved that about four races ago and it was good for us to run as good as we have.

“It struggled in qualifying but it came around today. To give Victory (Motorcycles) their first (NHRA PSM) win is huge. I’m so glad I was able to get it done for them. We have big plans for next year and hopefully you’ll see us a lot more next year.”

While the 2016 season is now over, it’ll be only three months from now before the 2017 season begins with the Circle K NHRA Winternationals, Feb. 9-12, again at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif.

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER OF AUTO CLUB FINALS, THE FINAL EVENT OF 24-RACE 2016 NHRA SEASON:

TOP FUEL: 1.  Doug Kalitta; 2.  J.R. Todd; 3.  Shawn Langdon; 4.  Antron Brown; 5.  Leah Pritchett; 6.  Tony Schumacher; 7.  Steve Torrence; 8.  Richie Crampton; 9.  Wayne Newby; 10.  Morgan Lucas; 11.  Tripp Tatum; 12.  Terry McMillen; 13.  Shawn Reed; 14.  Clay Millican; 15.  Brittany Force; 16.  Troy Buff.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 2.  John Force; 3.  Courtney Force; 4.  Jack Beckman; 5.  Robert Hight; 6. Ron Capps; 7.  Jeff Arend; 8.  Tim Wilkerson; 9.  Cruz Pedregon; 10.  Paul Lee; 11.  Del Worsham; 12.  Dave Richards; 13.  Matt Hagan; 14.  Jim Campbell; 15.  Chad Head; 16.  John Bojec.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Greg Anderson; 2.  Jason Line; 3.  Bo Butner; 4.  Erica Enders; 5.  Shane Gray; 6.  Chris McGaha; 7.  Drew Skillman; 8.  Vincent Nobile; 9.  Alex Laughlin; 10.  Jeg Coughlin; 11.  Matt Hartford; 12.  Aaron Strong; 13.  Alan Prusiensky; 14.  Allen Johnson; 15.  Deric Kramer; 16. Kenny Delco.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Matt Smith; 2.  Angelle Sampey; 3.  Jerry Savoie; 4.  Hector Arana Jr; 5.  Eddie Krawiec; 6. Steve Johnson; 7.  Andrew Hines; 8.  Chip Ellis; 9.  Melissa Surber; 10.  Hector Arana; 11.  Angie Smith; 12.  Freddie Camarena; 13.  LE Tonglet; 14.  Cory Reed; 15.  Shawn Gann; 16.  Scotty Pollacheck.

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Sunday's season-ending race winners in the Auto Club Finals, from left: Greg Anderson (Pro Stock), Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car), Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
Sunday’s season-ending race winners in the Auto Club Finals, from left: Greg Anderson (Pro Stock), Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car), Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

SUNDAY’S FINAL ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Doug Kalitta, 3.745 seconds, 326.63 mph  def. J.R. Todd, 3.704 seconds, 327.90 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 3.918, 320.51  def. John Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.918, 321.81.

PRO STOCK: Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.580, 210.24  def. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.570, 211.43.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Matt Smith, Victory, 8.044, 117.34  def. Angelle Sampey, Buell, Foul – Red Light.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Richie Crampton, 3.771, 316.52 def. Brittany Force, 5.890, 111.78; Tony Schumacher, 4.920, 288.77 def. Clay Millican, 4.945, 139.76; Antron Brown, 3.768, 321.35 def. Morgan Lucas, 3.789, 323.27; Shawn Langdon, 3.769, 321.42 def. Tripp Tatum, 3.815, 320.89; Doug Kalitta, 3.755, 326.40 def. Shawn Reed, 4.774, 157.04; J.R. Todd, 3.811, 308.43 def. Troy Buff, Foul – Red Light; Leah Pritchett, 3.766, 321.96 def. Terry McMillen, 3.872, 275.96; Steve Torrence, 3.739, 324.12 def. Wayne Newby, 3.779, 324.44; QUARTERFINALS — Todd, 3.762, 316.90 def. Crampton, Foul – Red Light; Brown, 3.756, 320.97 def. Pritchett, 3.760, 326.87; Kalitta, 3.742, 328.86 def. Schumacher, 3.778, 324.90; Langdon, 3.789, 325.06 def. Torrence, 5.068, 167.45; SEMIFINALS — Todd, 3.708, 329.26 def. Brown, 3.765, 324.44; Kalitta, 3.734, 326.95 def. Langdon, 3.747, 325.53; FINAL — Kalitta, 3.745, 326.63 def. Todd, 3.704, 327.90.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — John Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.964, 327.98 def. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, Foul – Red Light; Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, Broke def. John Bojec, Camry, Broke – No Show; Courtney Force, Camaro, 4.137, 260.56 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, Foul – Red Light; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.373, 235.23 def. Dave Richards, Ford Mustang, 6.365, 112.99; Ron Capps, Charger, 4.140, 234.90 def. Chad Head, Camry, 8.634, 70.32; Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.929, 326.40 def. Paul Lee, Camry, 4.460, 195.28; Jeff Arend, Camry, 3.971, 314.97 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 6.367, 118.41; Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.922, 325.77 def. Del Worsham, Camry, 6.290, 108.28; QUARTERFINALS — J. Force, 3.940, 324.44 def. R. Capps, 3.938, 324.67; C. Force, 3.922, 319.75 def. Arend, 3.979, 323.97; Johnson Jr., 3.897, 325.37 def. Hight, 3.921, 330.96; Beckman, 3.910, 327.82 def. Wilkerson, 4.007, 276.69; SEMIFINALS — J. Force, 3.932, 326.00 def. Beckman, 9.012, 82.04; Johnson Jr., 3.929, 297.09 def. C. Force, 3.916, 327.74; FINAL — Johnson Jr., 3.918, 320.51 def. J. Force, 3.918, 321.81.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Chris McGaha, Chevy Camaro, 7.461, 201.61 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.594, 210.14 def. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.659, 208.36; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.582, 210.93 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.631, 209.49; Erica Enders, Dart, 6.623, 209.33 def. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.596, 209.82; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.600, 209.95 def. Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.626, 209.14; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.598, 209.79 def. Deric Kramer, Dart, Foul – Red Light; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.560, 211.13 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 6.657, 208.14; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.576, 210.80 def. Aaron Strong, Camaro, 6.633, 208.78; QUARTERFINALS — Enders, 6.649, 208.91 def. Nobile, 15.635, 47.85; Butner, 6.605, 209.82 def. Skillman, 6.631, 210.18; Anderson, 6.592, 210.37 def. Gray, 6.596, 210.47; Line, 6.605, 209.33 def. McGaha, 6.607, 209.43; SEMIFINALS — Line, 6.590, 210.54 def. Enders, 13.902, 63.67; Anderson, 6.596, 210.54 def. Butner, 6.630, 210.41; FINAL — Anderson, 6.580, 210.24 def. Line, 6.570, 211.43.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.879, 194.88 def. Angie Smith, 6.972, 190.51; Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.899, 194.86 def. Freddie Camarena, Suzuki, 6.977, 192.69; Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.930, 192.93 def. Melissa Surber, Buell, Foul – Red Light; Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.865, 194.44 def. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.980, 192.93; Matt Smith, 6.916, 193.35 def. Hector Arana, Buell, Foul – Red Light; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.880, 194.52 def. Cory Reed, Buell, 7.152, 188.10; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.850, 195.56 def. Shawn Gann, Buell, Foul – Red Light; Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.882, 195.42 def. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 32.616, 276.86; QUARTERFINALS — Savoie, 6.897, 196.02 def. Johnson, 6.890, 193.65; Arana Jr, 6.945, 191.59 def. Ellis, Broke – No Show; Sampey, 6.879, 193.93 def. Hines, 6.912, 193.85; M. Smith, 6.904, 192.99 def. Krawiec, 6.871, 195.31; SEMIFINALS — M. Smith, 6.946, 192.44 def. Arana Jr, 7.569, 134.10; Sampey, 6.900, 194.24 def. Savoie, 6.948, 193.85; FINAL — M. Smith, 8.044, 117.34 def. Sampey, Foul – Red Light.

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FINAL POINT STANDINGS OF 2016 SEASON:

TOP FUEL: 1.  Antron Brown, 2,663; 2.  Doug Kalitta, 2,533; 3.  Steve Torrence, 2,482; 4.  J.R. Todd, 2,455; 5.  Shawn Langdon, 2,443; 6.  Brittany Force, 2,399; 7.  Leah Pritchett, 2,389; 8.  Tony Schumacher, 2,387; 9.  Richie Crampton, 2,279; 10.  Clay Millican, 2,264.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Ron Capps, 2,605; 2.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,553; 3.  Matt Hagan, 2,493; 4.  John Force, 2,486; 5.  Jack Beckman, 2,480; 6.  Courtney Force, 2,414; 7.  Del Worsham, 2,406; 8.  Robert Hight, 2,368; 9.  Tim Wilkerson, 2,314; 10.  Alexis DeJoria, 2,184.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Jason Line, 2,639; 2.  Greg Anderson, 2,636; 3.  Shane Gray, 2,492; 4.  Bo Butner, 2,453; 5. Vincent Nobile, 2,449; 6.  Drew Skillman, 2,424; 7.  Chris McGaha, 2,327; 8.  Allen Johnson, 2,277; 9.  Erica Enders, 2,239; 10.  Jeg Coughlin, 2,208.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Jerry Savoie, 2,595; 2.  Eddie Krawiec, 2,571; 3.  Andrew Hines, 2,564; 4.  Angelle Sampey, 2,495; 5.  Chip Ellis, 2,415; 6.  Matt Smith, 2,389; 7.  LE Tonglet, 2,372; 8.  Hector Arana Jr, 2,315; 9.  Cory Reed, 2,312; 10.  Hector Arana, 2,279.

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