Lucas, Hight, Line Top Winternationals

Morgan Lucas drove to victory in the opening round of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season Sunday at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif. (Angela Barraza Photo)
Morgan Lucas drove to victory in the opening round of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season Sunday at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif. (Angela Barraza Photo)

POMONA, Calif. — Morgan Lucas wasn’t particularly thrilled to be in second-period English class at Jurupa Valley High School in nearby Mira Loma, Calif., that day in 2000. But then one of his classmates said to him, “Hey, I heard you drag race. I drag race, too.”

From then on, Lucas and his classmate, Shawn Langdon, were fast friends, talking and daydreaming about the National Hot Rod Ass’n and what their places in it would be someday. They got a vision of it Sunday, as Morgan Lucas Racing teammates meeting in the final round of the Kragen O’Reilly Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway.

Rain, sleet, and hail — all of which fell on the season-opener in freakishly frigid Southern California this past weekend — couldn’t stop Lucas from winning for the first time here and the first time since the October 6, 2009, Memphis race.

Also earning the specially designed pewter Wally statue that commemorates NHRA’s 60th anniversary celebration were Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Jason Line (Pro Stock).

Lucas, with a 3.835-second 1,000-foot pass at 316.38 miles per hour in the Geico/Toyota Dragster, denied Langdon his first Top Fuel victory.

“I really don’t even know how to feel,” Lucas said after fending off the 4.047-second, 313.73-mile-per-hour effort in the Lucas Oil/Speedco Dragster from Langdon, the 2007 NHRA Super Comp series champion and 1997 Junior Drag Racing League national titlist.

“This is one of the most special races, in my eyes, (along with) Gainesville and Indy. I went to high school about 25-30 minutes from here. The corporate headquarters for Lucas Oil is about a half-hour from here. So this is just a really special moment for us,” Lucas said.

“Honestly, I don’t want to project anything but being humble, because…we went on a big drought and this makes you appreciate all the success,” he said. “We want to appreciate and enjoy this. Who knows when the next one is going to happen?”

He said the win-win situation of racing his teammate in the final made him relaxed enough to tell himself as he flipped his visor down for the last time Sunday, “Let’s have some fun,” rather than “Don’t mess up.”

Lucas had a twinge of sadness that he kept Langdon, his friend through thick and thin, from winning his first pro race. “He’s one of my best friends. That’s what makes it fun,” Lucas said. “He’s such a good driver. He’s going to win a ton. I think he’s going to have a long, massive career, and he’s going to win championships. I’m just Joe Schmo.”

Like Lucas, Funny Car winner Hight ended his dismal streak. He hadn’t won since last August at Brainerd, Minn., closing season with five first-round losses and a failure to qualify.

But his holeshot victory over Matt Hagan was his third at the Winternationals in six years. Just 33 days after being named President of John Force Racing, Hight rekindled the rivalry with Don Schumacher Racing and its driver, Hagan, whom Force overtook in a down-to-the-last-day scramble last November to net his 15th championship.

Hight kept the momentum in the Force camp Sunday, using a 4.056-second run at 312.71 mph in the Auto Club Ford Mustang. Hagan ran a quicker 4.023-second pass at 310.20 in the Die Hard Dodge Charger.

After beating Force in the quarterfinals, Hight wisecracked about his CEO/father-in-law/teammate, “He’s going to have to take over this next round, because I’m busy. I’ve got some racing to do.”

Hagan kept him plenty busy. Naturally wanting a rematch with Force after the Funny Car icon and his Ford friends tag-teamed deny him the championship, Hagan took his shot Sunday against the President of John Force Racing. Afterward, he promised to seal the deal against anyone he meets in the final round.

“I’m proud of this team and we’re happy with the way the car ran, but you have to win when you get to the finals,” Hagan said. “I won’t be satisfied until we’re No. 1.”

Hight is No. 1, at least until the March 10-13 Tire Kingdom Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla.

“The NHRA announces they are going to have pewter trophies, and you think, ‘Man, I want one of those so bad.’ You look at the class, and it is not that easy to get them,” Hight said. “If we had slipped just a little, we’d have been dust.”

Pro Stock winner Line, just four weeks past back surgery, said he turned in his best driving job in holding off Greg Stanfield, last year’s series runner-up.

In the final round, Line ran a track-record 6.529 seconds at 211.89 mph in the Summit Racing Pontiac GXP to win his second Winternationals in three years and continue his team’s domination here. He and Greg Anderson have combined to reach the final round of the previous six Winternationals and seven of the past eight.

Stanfield, looking for his first victory since the U.S. Nationals last September at Indianapolis, countered with a 6.595/210.70 in the Safety Sentry Pontiac GXP.