From left: Bo Butner, Robert Hight, Doug Kalitta. Photos and videos courtesy NHRA

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

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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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Graham Rahal’s ‘Weighty Issue’

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MONTEREY, California – Graham Rahal admits that he can’t wait until the day he doesn’t have to worry about his weight. Being a 6-foot-2, big-boned individual can have its advantages, but not when it comes to fitting into an IndyCar.

That is why the son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time CART IndyCar champion Bobby Rahal has begun a body shaping therapy known as “Sculpting” that uses lasers to trim away body fat.

“Honestly, it is no secret, I’m not shy about this, that I’ve struggled with my weight,” the 201-pound Rahal told a group of reporters during INDYCAR’s Open Test at Laguna Seca on Thursday. “I can guarantee you that from a strength perspective and a stamina perspective, there’s very few guys out here that can keep up with me. I’m just not a super skinny build. It’s never been my thing.

“I’ve tried. We’ve kind of looked around. There was some mutual interest from them to look into trying this, see if it works. I’ll be honest. I was always very skeptical of the stuff. Where I’m at, I’ve done one treatment. I can’t even tell you today if it’s something that really works or not.”

That led Rahal to try out the sculpting process that was invented by a doctor who found it with swelling in kid’s cheeks. The “Sculpture” process uses a laser that kills the fatty cells.

“It takes a long time, I think,” Rahal said. “It’s going to take multiple I think to get there.”

Watch Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on NBC at 3 p.m.

A race driver needs to be thin, yet very strong to have the physical strength and stamina to compete at a high level in the race car. When it comes to the NTT IndyCar Series, it’s even more important because of the size of the cars and tight cockpit.

Additionally, the extra weight can impact the performance of the race car. The lighter the driver, the less weight inside of the car. In INDYCAR, drivers are weighed and for the lighter drivers, lead weight is added to the car to meet a requirement.

But in Rahal’s case, the lead weight ballast has to be reduced and that sometimes throws off the center of gravity in the car.

“The facts are it’s not going to work if you don’t work out, too, and eat well,” Rahal said. “It doesn’t do anything. But earlier this year, man, I had given up drinking completely for three, four months. I was working out every day, twice a day on most occasions. I went to a nutritionist, doing everything. I literally was not losing an ounce. It was the most frustrating period of time for me.

“I am the biggest guy here. Is it ever going to be equal for me? No matter what these guys talk about with driver ballast, it’s a whole different thing, where my center of gravity is.”

That is what led the 30-year-old driver from Ohio to study the “Sculpting” procedure. He realizes he is never going to have the metabolism of some of the thinner drivers, but he needs to maintain a weight that minimizes his disadvantage.

“It is a challenge,” he admitted. “Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves (on Penske Team Acura in IMSA) weigh 60 pounds less than me or something. There is no ballast there. That’s a big swing, a lot of weight to be carrying around.

“We have to try anything we can. If you’re going to be serious, try to find the performance advantage and the edge, you’ve got to look outside of the box.

“It is something new for me. But the fight I guess against being an ultra-skinny guy.

“I fly home with most of these guys after races, I see most of these guys a lot of times, they’re sitting there eating In-N-Out Burger, whatever else. Literally I cannot do it. If I do it, it immediately reflects for me. These guys you see them the next weekend, they’re like this big.

“It’s like, (crap), it’s not my build.”

Because of Rahal’s height and size, he chose to step away from the endurance races for Team Penske in IMSA at the end of last season. He was replaced at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring by fellow IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi.

Rahal complained that the steering wheel actually hit his legs inside of the Acura, making it difficult for him to drive on the challenging road courses. Since that time, Acura Team Penske has moved the steering column up by a few inches, and it no longer impacts a driver the size of Rahal.

For the IMSA season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on Oct. 12, Rahal will be back in the Team Penske Acura.

“Back in the (Team Penske) shop three weeks ago, I could actually turn the steering wheel, which I was shocked about,” Rahal said. “My head touched the roof, whatever, I’m used to that. Physically being able to steer, which I now should be able to do better.

“So I’m excited about it. It’s another great opportunity obviously with Penske. But more importantly for me is Acura, Honda. It’s a great thing to be back in.

“But that wasn’t a weight thing. It’s purely size. They just don’t build cars for guys my size. I used to talk to J.W. (Justin Wilson) about that. It’s the facts of life. Even the GT cars. You would think a GT car would be big. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a GT car, I was comfortable in either. They’re built for small guys. That’s the way it goes.”

Rahal is taller than his father, Bobby, who is also his IndyCar team owner along with David Letterman and Michael Lanigan.

“I blame my dad,” Rahal said. “I do. You can tell him I said that. I told him, ‘It’s a genetic thing. I got good genes in some ways.’

“I told my wife this the other day, I’m very excited for someday when my career ends just to have a ‘Dad Bod,’ be able to let go for a minute, see how things turn out, because this is getting a little bit exhausting.

“We’re going to stay committed through the winter. I try my hardest every year, but I never tried harder this year to be thin. I weigh about the same as last year, but it took so much effort to get there, I just have to think outside the box.”