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.

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FINAL ROUND:

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.

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

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.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

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.

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UPDATED POINTS STANDINGS AFTER FIRST RACE:

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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American Flat Track puts emphasis on fans in building 2020 schedule

American Flat Track
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American Flat Track put an emphasis on fans and feedback from other series while also acknowledging everything is tentative while hammering out its schedule for the 2020 season.

The 18-race schedule over nine weekends will begin July 17-18 at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Florida, about 20 miles from AFT’s headquarters in Daytona Beach, Florida.

The dirt track motorcycle racing series, which is sanctioned by AMA Pro Racing, shares a campus with its sister company, NASCAR, and American Flat Track CEO Michael Lock said the series closely observed how it’s handled races in its return during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and also built AFT’s procedures from NASCAR’s post-pandemic playbook of more than 30 pages.

SEEKING HISTORY: Shayna Texter wants AFT championship

“I speak personally to the committee within NASCAR that has been put together for the restart, regularly talking to the communications people, general counsel and other relevant operations departments,” Lock told NBCSports.com. “So we’ve derived for Flat Track from NASCAR’s protocols, which I think are entirely consistent with all the other pro sports leagues that are attempting to return.

“Obviously with NASCAR the scale of the business is completely different. There were some times more people involved in the paddock and the race operations for NASCAR than the numbers of people at flat track. Our scale is much smaller, and our venues are generally smaller. So we can get our hands around all of the logistics. I think we’re very confident on that.”

While NASCAR has had just under 1,000 on site for each of its races without fans, Lock said American Flat Track will have between 400 to 500 people, including racers, crews, officials and traveling staff.

But another important difference from NASCAR (which will run at least its first eight races without crowds) is that American Flat Track intends to have fans at its events, though it still is working with public health experts and government officials to determine how many will be allowed and the ways in which they will be positioned (e.g., buffer zones in the grandstands).

Lock said capacity could will be limited to 30-50 percent at some venues.

American Flat Track will suspend its fan track walk, rider autograph sessions for the rest of the season, distribute masks at the gates and also ban paper tickets and cash for concessions and merchandise. Some of the best practices were built with input from a “Safe to Race Task Force” that includes members from various motorcycle racing sanctioning bodies (including Supercross and motocross).

There also will be limitations on corporate hospitality and VIP access and movement.

“I think everything the fans will see will be unusual,” Lock said. “Everything at the moment is unusual. We will roll out processes that are entirely consistent with the social distancing guidelines that will be in place at the time of the event. So we’re planning for a worst-case scenario. And if things are easier or better by the time we go to a venue, it’s a bonus.”

Lock said the restrictions are worth it because (unlike other racing series) AFT must have fans (even a limited number) for financial viability.

“We took a decision fairly early on in this process that it was neither desirable nor economically viable to run events without fans,” Lock said. “I can think of some big sports like NFL or like NASCAR where a huge chunk of that revenue is derived from broadcast, which means that your decision making as to how you run an event, where you can run an event has a different view than a sport like ours, or even like baseball, for example, that needs fans. Because the business model is so different.”

Broadcast coverage is important to American Flat Track, which added seven annual races over the past five years and can draw as many as 15,000 to its biggest events.

Lock said AFT ended the 2019 season with more than 50,000 viewers for each live event, making it the No. 1 property on FansChoice.TV. This year, the series has moved to TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold. “We’re expecting a really strong audience from Day 1, particularly with all this pent-up demand,” Lock said.

NBCSN also will broadcast a one-hour wrap-up of each race (covering heat races and main events).

Because the season is starting three months late, the doubleheader weekends will allow AFT to maintain its schedule length despite losing several venues. And there could be more, Lock said, noting that there still are three TBA tracks.

“There may still be some surprises to come from one venue or another of delay or cancellation,” he said. “But we are intending to run as full a season as possible.”

Here is the American Flat Track schedule for 2020:

July 17-18 (Friday-Saturday): Volusia Speedway Park, Barberville, Florida

July 31-Aug. 1 (Friday-Saturday):  Allen County Fairgrounds, Lima, Ohio

Aug. 28-29 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, Northeast United States

Sept. 5-6 (Saturday-Sunday): Illinois State Fairgrounds, Springfield, Illinois

Sept. 11-12 (Friday-Saturday): Williams Grove Speedway, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania

Sept. 25-26 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, Texas

Oct. 2-3 (Friday-Saturday): Dixie Speedway, Woodstock, Georgia

Oct. 9-10 (Friday-Saturday): TBA, North Carolina

Oct. 15-16 (Thursday-Friday): AFT season finale, Daytona Beach, Florida