NHRA: Kalitta, Hight, Butner open season with Winternationals wins

From left: Bo Butner, Robert Hight, Doug Kalitta. Photos and videos courtesy NHRA
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In Monday’s rain-rescheduled finals of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals, Doug Kalitta did something no other driver has been able to do of late: beat 2018 Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence.

Torrence won the last six races of 2018, more than half of the 11 wins he earned in the 24-race season. But Monday, Kalitta topped the Texas native, marking two years in a row that Kalitta has begun the season with a Winternationals win.

Also winning the Winternationals for the second straight year was 2017 champion Bo Butner in Pro Stock.

And two-time NHRA Funny Car champ Robert Hight earned his fourth career Winternationals title.

Here’s how things played out Monday:

TOP FUEL: Kalitta (4.014 seconds at 269.29 mph) defeated No. 1 qualifier Torrence (4.008 seconds, 240.25 mph) as both dragsters pedaled their way through broken traction to reach the finish line. It was the 45th win of Kalitta’s Top Fuel career.

“This place has always been very special for me,” Kalitta said in a media release. “To have success here is more than you could imagine for me. We were fortunate to get by (Torrence’s team) but we’re going to keep at it.

“We are really hungry and we’ve got Rob (Flynn, crew chief) and Troy (Fasching, crew chief) doing just an awesome job. I’m just really proud of them.”

Kalitta not only defeated Steve Torrence in the final round, he also defeated Torrence’s father, Billy, in the quarterfinals. He also defeated Scott Palmer in the first round and Terry McMillen in the semifinals.

FUNNY CAR: Hight (3.881 seconds at 329.75 mph) defeated Jack Beckman (3.880 seconds, 329.42 mph) in the final round.

“You look at the Funny Car class and I think its tougher this year than last,” said Hight, who finished second in last year’s standings after winning the crown in 2017. “To come out here and be the No. 1 qualifier and win the race, that’s quite an accomplishment for this team. We’re going to have to be on our game all year long.”

The president of John Force Racing, Hight’s road to his 46th career Funny Car win began by defeating Terry Haddock in the opening round, Bob Tasca III in the quarterfinals and teammate and boss John Force in the semifinals before facing Beckman in the final round.

Beckman reached the final round by defeating, in order, Phil Burkhart Jr., Cruz Pedregon and Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tommy Johnson Jr.

PRO STOCK: In a rematch and same outcome as the 2018 Winternationals final round, Butner (6.522 seconds, 211.59 mph) earned his eighth career win by defeating teammate Jason Line (7.160 seconds, 148.58 mph).

“We were really struggling during qualifying,” Butner stated. “I definitely feel like we had the best car all four rounds today. I feel like we have a great car and team this year and I’m looking forward to keep going. We’re going to try and win them and the KB Racing team is as strong as ever.”

It was an interesting turn of events for Butner, who late last season announced that he would be stepping away from Pro Stock and returning to his Sportsman racing roots in 2019. Then, just a few weeks later, Butner changed his mind and said he would return to Pro Stock, which has seen its schedule trimmed from 24 national events to just 18 races in 2019.

Butner defeated, in order, Alan Prusiensky, Chris McGaha and two-time world champion Erica Enders en route to his final round win over Line.

The NHRA’s next national event is the Magic Dry Organic Absorbent NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park Feb. 22-24.



TOP FUEL: Doug Kalitta, 4.014 seconds, 269.29 mph def. Steve Torrence, 4.008 seconds, 240.25 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.881, 329.75 def. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.880, 329.42.

PRO STOCK: Bo Butner, Chevy Camaro, 6.522, 211.59 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 7.160, 148.58.



TOP FUEL: 1. Doug Kalitta; 2. Steve Torrence; 3. Mike Salinas; 4. Terry McMillen; 5. Billy Torrence; 6. Austin Prock; 7. Leah Pritchett; 8. Antron Brown; 9. Richie Crampton; 10. Clay Millican; 11. Steve Faria; 12. Brittany Force; 13. Cameron Ferre; 14. Scott Palmer.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight; 2. Jack Beckman; 3. John Force; 4. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 5. Bob Tasca III; 6. Cruz Pedregon; 7. Shawn Langdon; 8. Ron Capps; 9. Matt Hagan; 10. Terry Haddock; 11. Tim Wilkerson; 12. Frank Pedregon; 13. J.R. Todd; 14. Gary Densham; 15. Jim Campbell; 16. Phil Burkart.

PRO STOCK: 1. Bo Butner; 2. Jason Line; 3. Alex Laughlin; 4. Erica Enders; 5. Matt Hartford; 6. Steve Graham; 7. Val Smeland; 8. Chris McGaha; 9. Kenny Delco; 10. Alan Prusiensky; 11. Deric Kramer; 12. Greg Anderson; 13. Fernando Cuadra; 14. Jeg Coughlin; 15. Jeff Isbell; 16. Rodger Brogdon.



TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Doug Kalitta, 3.707, 323.97 def. Scott Palmer, 8.545, 93.47; Terry McMillen, 3.710, 329.10 def. Richie Crampton, 3.737, 325.22; Leah Pritchett, 3.707, 325.61 def. Antron Brown, 3.733, 329.26; Billy Torrence, 4.103, 266.42 def. Cameron Ferre, 7.368, 86.02; Steve Torrence, 3.688, 330.96 def. Steve Faria, 4.626, 163.18; Austin Prock, 4.029, 312.21 def. Brittany Force, 5.851, 112.72; Mike Salinas, 3.682, 333.74 def. Clay Millican, 3.840, 327.82. QUARTERFINALS — Kalitta, 3.716, 325.69 def. B. Torrence, 3.670, 331.04; McMillen, 3.696, 329.91 def. Pritchett, 4.622, 147.12; S. Torrence, 3.678, 331.36 was unopposed; Salinas, 3.685, 334.40 def. Prock, 3.699, 334.15. SEMIFINALS — Kalitta, 3.708, 328.70 def. McMillen, 3.706, 329.10; S. Torrence, 3.688, 329.50 def. Salinas, 3.687, 318.47. FINAL – Kalitta 4.014, 269.29 def. S. Torrence, 4.008, 240.25.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.959, 319.75 def. J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 9.384, 84.66; Cruz Pedregon, Dodge Charger, 4.292, 215.86 def. Frank Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 6.688, 109.80; Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.930, 328.30 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 13.400, 49.20; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.102, 237.96 def. Phil Burkart, Broke – No Show; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.193, 288.33 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 5.822, 121.03; Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 4.076, 246.57 def. Terry Haddock, Mustang, 4.877, 164.87; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.933, 323.04 def. Gary Densham, Mustang, 12.020, 83.20; John Force, Camaro, 3.890, 333.74 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, 4.140, 243.33. QUARTERFINALS — Hight, 3.856, 331.61 def. Tasca III, 3.932, 322.58; Beckman, 3.875, 331.94 def. C. Pedregon, 3.962, 328.46; Johnson Jr., 3.876, 326.87 def. Langdon, 3.982, 324.05; Force, 3.900, 323.19 def. Capps, 4.092, 248.07; SEMIFINALS — Beckman, 3.898, 327.59 def. Johnson Jr., 5.216, 144.83; Hight, 3.883, 328.22 def. Force, 3.930, 321.42; FINAL — Hight, 3.881, 329.75 def. Beckman, 3.880, 329.42.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Alex Laughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.545, 211.33 def. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 35.522, 43.37; Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.545, 210.34 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.550, 211.06; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 7.946, 165.09 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 27.866, 51.48; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.536, 211.93 def. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 28.385, 29.30; Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.607, 210.41 def. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.907, 201.58; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.501, 212.39 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.637, 208.42; Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.599, 210.77 def. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.517, 212.39 def. Jeff Isbell, Ford Mustang, ; QUARTERFINALS — Laughlin, 6.716, 205.54 def. Smeland, 8.256, 123.01; Line, 6.531, 212.03 def. Graham, 6.602, 209.69; Enders, 6.510, 212.09 def. Hartford, 6.533, 210.34; Butner, 6.526, 211.43 def. McGaha, 8.953, 105.81; SEMIFINALS — Line, 6.527, 211.13 def. Laughlin, 6.527, 211.66; Butner, 6.518, 211.53 def. Enders, 6.527, 211.93; FINAL — Butner, 6.522, 211.59 def. Line, 7.160, 148.58.



TOP FUEL: 1. Doug Kalitta, 117; 2. Steve Torrence, 106; 3. Terry McMillen, 72; 4. Mike Salinas, 70; 5. Billy Torrence, 56; 6. (tie) Leah Pritchett, 52; Austin Prock, 52; 8. Antron Brown, 37; 9. (tie) Richie Crampton, 35; Scott Palmer, 35.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, 121; 2. Jack Beckman, 100; 3. Tommy Johnson Jr., 81; 4. John Force, 71; 5. Shawn Langdon, 58; 6. Ron Capps, 57; 7. Bob Tasca III, 55; 8. Cruz Pedregon, 54; 9. Matt Hagan, 37; 10. (tie) Jim Campbell, 32; Gary Densham, 32; Frank Pedregon, 32; J.R. Todd, 32; Tim Wilkerson, 32.

PRO STOCK: 1. Bo Butner, 120; 2. Jason Line, 97; 3. Erica Enders, 80; 4. Alex Laughlin, 76; 5. (tie) Matt Hartford, 52; Chris McGaha, 52; 7. (tie) Steve Graham, 51; Val Smeland, 51; 9. Rodger Brogdon, 44; 10. Deric Kramer, 37.

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With throaty roar, NASCAR Next Gen Camaro is taking Le Mans by storm on global stage

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

LE MANS, France — The V8 engine of the NASCAR Chevrolet Camaro has a distinct growl that cannot go unnoticed even among the most elite sports cars in the world at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

When the Hendrick Motorsports crew fired up the car inside Garage 56, NASCAR chairman Jim France broke into a huge grin and gave a thumbs up.

“The only guy who didn’t cover his ears,” laughed seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

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France has been waiting since 1962 – the year his father, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., brought him to his first 24 Hours of Le Mans – to hear the roar of a stock car at the most prestigious endurance race in the world.

A path finally opened when NASCAR developed its Next Gen car, which debuted last year. France worked out a deal to enter a car in a specialized “Innovative Car” class designed to showcase technology and development. The effort would be part of NASCAR’s 75th celebration and it comes as Le Mans marks its 100th.

Once he had the approval, France persuaded Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear – NASCAR’s winningest team, manufacturer and tire supplier – to build a car capable of running the twice-around-the-clock race.

The race doesn’t start until Saturday, but NASCAR’s arrival has already been wildly embraced and France could not be more thrilled.

“Dad’s vision, to be able to follow it, it took awhile to follow it up, and my goal was to outdo what he accomplished,” France told The Associated Press. “I just hope we don’t fall on our ass.”

The car is in a class of its own and not racing anyone else in the 62-car field. But the lineup of 2010 Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller, 2009 Formula One champion Jenson Button and Johnson has been fast enough; Rockenfeller put down a qualifying lap that was faster than every car in the GTE AM class by a full three seconds.

The Hendrick Motorsports crew won its class in the pit stop competition and finished fifth overall as the only team using a manual jack against teams exclusively using air jacks. Rick Hendrick said he could not be prouder of the showing his organization has made even before race day.

“When we said we’re gonna do it, I said, ‘Look, we can’t do this half-assed. I want to be as sharp as anybody out there,” Hendrick told AP. “I don’t want to be any less than any other team here. And just to see the reaction from the crowd, people are so excited about this car. My granddaughter has been sending me all these TikTok things that fans are making about NASCAR being at Le Mans.”

This isn’t NASCAR’s first attempt to run Le Mans. The late France Sr. brokered a deal in 1976, as America celebrated its bicentennial, to bring two cars to compete in the Grand International class and NASCAR selected the teams. Herschel McGriff and his son, Doug, drove a Wedge-powered, Olympia Beer-sponsored Dodge Charger, and Junie Donlavey piloted a Ford Torino shared by Richard Brooks and Dick Hutcherson.

Neither car came close to finishing the race. McGriff, now 95 and inducted into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame in January, is in Le Mans as France’s guest, clad head-to-toe in the noticeable Garage 56 uniforms.

“I threw a lot of hints that I would like to come. And I’ve been treated as royalty,” McGriff said. “This is unbelievable to me. I recognize nothing but I’m anxious to see everything. I’ve been watching and seeing pictures and I can certainly see the fans love their NASCAR.”

The goal is to finish the full race Sunday and, just maybe, beat cars from other classes. Should they pull off the feat, the driver trio wants its own podium celebration.

“I think people will talk about this car for a long, long time,” said Rockenfeller, who along with sports car driver Jordan Taylor did much of the development alongside crew chief Chad Knaus and Greg Ives, a former crew chief who stepped into a projects role at Hendrick this year.

“When we started with the Cup car, we felt already there was so much potential,” Rockenfeller said. “And then we tweaked it. And we go faster, and faster, at Le Mans on the SIM. But you never know until you hit the real track, and to be actually faster than the SIM. Everybody in the paddock, all the drivers, they come up and they are, ‘Wow, this is so cool,’ and they were impressed by the pit stops. We’ve overachieved, almost, and now of course the goal is to run for 24 hours.”

The car completed a full 24-hour test at Sebring, Florida, earlier this year, Knaus said, and is capable of finishing the race. Button believes NASCAR will leave a lasting impression no matter what happens.

“If you haven’t seen this car live yet, it’s an absolute beast,” Button said. “When you see and hear it go by, it just puts a massive smile on your face.”

For Hendrick, the effort is the first in his newfound embrace of racing outside NASCAR, the stock car series founded long ago in the American South. Aside from the Le Mans project, he will own the Indy car that Kyle Larson drives for Arrow McLaren in next year’s Indianapolis 500 and it will be sponsored by his automotive company.

“If you’d have told me I’d be racing at Le Mans and Indianapolis within the same year, I’d never have believed you,” Hendrick told AP. “But we’re doing both and we’re going to do it right.”

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Fans gather around the NASCAR Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 that is the Garage 56 entry for the 100th 24 Hours of Le Mans at the Circuit de la Sarthe (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

General Motors is celebrating the achievement with a 2024 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Garage 56 Edition and only 56 will be available to collectors later this year.

“Even though Chevrolet has been racing since its inception in 1911, we’ve never done anything quite like Garage 56,” said GM President Mark Reuss. “A NASCAR stock car running at Le Mans is something fans doubted they would see again.”

The race hasn’t even started yet, but Hendrick has enjoyed it so much that he doesn’t want the project to end.

“It’s like a shame to go through all this and do all this, and then Sunday it’s done,” Hendrick said. “It’s just really special to be here.”