NHRA: Funny Car crown no joke; alligator farmer wants big PSM bite

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They may drive Funny Cars, but Del Worsham and Jack Beckman are not laughing heading into this weekend’s race at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.

Worsham, Beckman are all business as they fight it out for the NHRA Funny Car championship in the season-ending Auto Club Finals.

Worsham, who is seeking his first career Funny Car title – which would make him one of only three drivers in NHRA history to have won both Top Fuel and Funny Car championships in a career – holds a slim 38-point edge over Beckman, who won the 2012 Funny Car crown.

“To win the (Top Fuel) championship in 2011 was definitely very special, something that I could never describe or even tell you how special it was,” Worsham said in a media release. “But this chance now in a Funny Car, what I started in, being a part of this team, kind of being part of building this whole Funny Car team with Nicky (Bonifante), Jon-O (Oberhofer), (team owner) Connie Kalitta, building this thing for (the late) Scott (Kalitta), it would mean a lot to win the championship.

“I made the comment multiple times a real goal of ours, especially at the beginning of the season, was just to get to the finals with an opportunity to win the championship, the opportunity that if you win the race, you could be the Mello Yello NHRA champion. We accomplished that, got there. If we win the race, we will be the champions, I believe. It’s just kind of in our hands.”

Beckman, who has a Funny Car-high seven wins this season, isn’t trying to overthink his chances. He knows what has to be done.

“We’re still two rounds out,” Beckman said. “It’s real simple. We need to out qualify (Worsham) at Pomona and we need him on the same side of the (elimination) ladder as us and we need to beat him early. You want to talk about having to be perfect to win the championship and maybe that’s what the fans deserve to see.

“We will do everything we can to go to Pomona and be perfect and as flawless as a nitro Funny Car team can be. We have a great team right now and we are absolutely capable of winning that race. The thing is we have to win that race and we have to gain two rounds on Del.”

Tommy Johnson Jr., meanwhile, is a distant 97 points behind Worsham but still mathematically in the hunt. Ron Capps is 140 points back, but his chances are slim.

As many as 150 points can be earned by any one driver in an NHRA race.

Two NHRA championships have already been decided: Antron Brown clinched his second Top Fuel crown in four years two weeks ago at Las Vegas. That’s the same location that Erica Enders clinched her second consecutive Pro Stock championship, the only female to date to ever win a title in the so-called “door slammer” category.

One other championship is also to be determined this weekend.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Louisiana alligator farmer Jerry Savoie is looking to take a bite out of Andrew Hines’ bid for a second straight and fifth career title.

Hines has come on strong during the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoff, winning three of the four races he’s captured this season. He beat Savoie in the final round at Las Vegas to increase his points lead to 46 over Savoie. Also still in contention is Hines’ teammate, Eddie Krawiec, who is 83 points back.

“I’m trying to not put any pressure on myself,” said the 32-year-old Hines, who would be the youngest competitor in NHRA history to claim five world titles. “I feel like I have a good Harley and I just need to go out and try to do my job.

“The team is doing a good job and I’m just trying to be consistent. If I get a fifth (championship) that would be fantastic, but I’m trying to treat it like any other race. It’s something I’ve tried to do over the last couple years and it’s worked really well.”

Savoie, meanwhile, has his eyes both on wrestling the championship away from Hines, but also to potentially set a Pro Stock Motorcycle milestone.

“There’s absolutely a chance to go 200 (miles per hour),” said Savoie, who has three wins this season. “We went almost 199 in Dallas and the conditions in Pomona are going to be better. We definitely think we have a chance. We’ve got a good program going on right now and if we find it, (the motorcycle) will go 200.

“We’ve got a couple of goals in Pomona and we want to run 200 if it’s there. But we also want to go out there and try to win the race and see what happens.”

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Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)