30
Dec

After a long (but very productive) year covering the NHRA tour I was beyond excited that the season was coming to an end. All I had to do was finish out the final weekend of the year in Pomona, CA, home of the Auto Club Finals. Pomona is usually good for plenty of carnage as teams appear to throw everything they have into their tuneups for the finale.

Wednesday evening prior to the first day of qualifying I would head by the track after sunset to see if there was anything going on worth shooting some pictures of.

Below, the car of NHRA top fuel dragster driver Antron Brown sits in the Matco Tools pit area under a pastel colored sky.

Nikon D800, 24-70mm, 800iso, f2.8, 1/250th, Aperture Priority

Crew members work on the car of funny car driver Alexis DeJoria in the Tequila Patron pit area.

Nikon D800, 24-70mm, 800iso, f2.8, 1/160th, Aperture Priority

During nitro qualifying on Thursday, championship point leader Jack Beckman would explode the body off his Valvoline funny car at the finish line. I was shooting on the starting line so I didn’t get any shots of the explosion but I did notice the eyebrows burnt off Jacks face a little while later when he was on the starting line being interviewed.

Nikon D4, 70-200mm, 800iso, f5, 1/320th, Aperture Priority

Just before we could get to the opening session of qualifying for Top Fuel, the rains would come and put an end to our day.

Nikon D800, 24-70mm, 1600iso, f3.5, 1/160th, Aperture Priority

Longtime pro stock driver Kurt Johnson poses for photos with his nicely painted car.

Nikon D4, 70-200mm, 400iso, f7.1, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

Tony Pedregon slows down via his parachutes following a qualifying pass.

Nikon D800, 24-70mm, 320iso, f8, 1/800th, Aperture Priority

NHRA safety safari crews look on as funny car driver Alexis DeJoria reacts as she climbs out of her Toyota Camry following an aborted qualifying attempt.

Nikon D800, 400mm with 1.4 converter (550mm), 500iso, f7.1, 1/2500th, Aperture Priority

One of my favorite shot of the weekend was this one of NHRA top alcohol dragster driver Greg Hunter with some nice light as his parachutes were late deploying and he would take his car into the sand trap during qualifying for the Auto Club Finals at at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. Hunter and the car would be ok.

Nikon D800, 400mm with 1.4 converter (550mm), 500iso, f7.1, 1/500th, Aperture Priority

Some awesome afternoon sunlight illuminates the face of top alcohol funny car driver Mickey Ferro as he slows down his car in the top end during qualifying for the Auto Club Finals at at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

Nikon D800, 400mm with 1.4 converter (550mm), 1250iso, f4.5, 1/1600th, Manual

For the first pro qualifying session on Saturday I would shoot elevated from the top of the grandstands. Its where I grew up shooting and its a place where you can get some awesome shots… if you are prepared!

During funny car qualifying Todd Lesenko would line up alongside Robert Hight. With Lesenkos track record this year its safe to say that you would have to pay me a good amount of cash for me to not have my camera aimed at Lesenkos. Why you ask? Here are a couple reminders. Explosion One and Explosion Two.

Right about half track, smoke started coming from Lesnkos car.

Nikon D800, 400mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/1600th, Manual

That was all the incentive I needed to push the shutter button down and see what happened…

Before the camera could even take a second shot, the engine would explode sending the nose of the body a foot off the car…

Nikon D800, 400mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/1600th, Manual

At around 250mph, the barely lifted body would get air beneath it and it would launch from the car…

Nikon D800, 400mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/1600th, Manual

The body leaving the car would lift the rear tires of Todd car a few feet off the ground as the parachutes that were connected to the body would be pulled free and begin to deploy…

Nikon D800, 400mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/1600th, Manual

When Jack Beckman had his body exploding incident on Thursday, I remember that a large part of the body landed in the grandstands at the finish line. Those were the grandstands I was currently in so once the body flew off the car I chickened out and aimed at the body to make sure it wasn’t heading my way.

I am actually glad I did because it gave me a few cool frames as the nice looking Tap It Brewery sponsored body flew gracefully through the southern California sky…

Nikon D800, 400mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/1600th, Manual

Nikon D800, 400mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/1600th, Manual

As the saying goes, “all things that go up must come down.” so did Lesenkos body.

Nikon D800, 400mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/1600th, Manual

It landed just on the other side of the wall from his lane. Even though the back of the body is ripped off I bet they repair this body to use again.

Nikon D800, 400mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/1600th, Manual

For the final pro qualifying session I would head to the top end as exciting stuff usually happens in the final qualifying session as drivers put it all on the line to qualify for the final race of the season.

Below, pro stock driver Greg Stanfield is towed to the scales, under beautiful skies, to be weighed prior to the final qualifying session.

Nikon D4, 70-200mm, 400iso, f5, 1/6400th, Aperture Priority

A small plane goes over Auto Club Raceway at Pomona prior to landing at Brackett Airport across the street during the first round of top alcohol dragster eliminations.

Nikon D4, 70-200mm, 400iso, f5, 1/5000th, Aperture Priority

A member of the NHRA safety safari cleans oil off the inside of the body of funny car driver Josh Crawford following engine problems in the final qualifying session. Crawford would not qualify for the race.

Nikon D4, 70-200mm, 400iso, f5, 1/320th, Aperture Priority

Sunlight illuminates the parachutes of funny car driver Paul Lee as he slows down to a stop during qualifying.

Nikon D800, 400mm with 1.4 converter (550mm), 500iso, f4, 1/640th, Aperture Priority

As the sun dipped below the horizon, the last few minutes of sunlight illuminate the snow capped peak of Mount Baldy. The bright lights are the portable Musco lights set up at the track.

Nikon D4, 70-200mm, 2500iso, f5.6, 1/8000th, Aperture Priority

Top fuel driver Mike Salinas blows an engine as he crosses the finish line. Salinas would qualify for the race and even pick up his first career round win the next day.

Nikon D800, 400mm with 1.4 converter (550mm), 1250iso, f4, 1/1000th, Manual

Championship points leader in top fuel dragster, Antron Brown explodes an engine alongside Clay Millican during qualifying.

Nikon D800, 400mm with 1.4 converter (550mm), 2500iso, f4, 1/1000th, Manual

Lets jump to Sunday where the two nitro champions would be decided.

In top fuel the contenders with a shot at the title were Tony Schumacher , Antron Brown and Spencer Massey. During pre-race introductions the three would pose with the championship trophy.

Nikon D800, 70-200mm, 25iso, f7.1, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

In funny car it would be Jack Beckman (center) fighting for his first championship along with Mike Neff (right) and Ron Capps.

Nikon D800, 70-200mm, 25iso, f7.1, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

Smoke comes from the engine of Ron Capps funny car after he lost in the semi finals, ending his quest for his first career championship.

Nikon D4, 70-200mm, 320iso, f5, 1/1000th, Aperture Priority

As Ron climbed from the car it was quite evident the dejection he was feeling as he walked away from his NAPA Dodge.

Nikon D800, 24-70mm, 25iso, f5, 1/250th, Manual

Nikon D4, 70-200mm, 320iso, f5, 1/640th, Aperture Priority

A few minutes later Capps daughter, Taylor, would join him at the top end to console her father.

Nikon D4, 70-200mm, 320iso, f5, 1/2000th, Aperture Priority

While Capps was in the middle of a terrible day, we had the celebration from Capps teammate, Jack Beckman, who would hoist his first funny car championship. Fast Jack was one happy man as he celebrated with the hardware every drag racer dreams of.

Nikon D800, 24-70mm, 25iso, f7.1, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

While Beckman would win the championship, it would be Cruz Pedregon taking home the wally in funny car. After the win a happy Pedregon would take a Full Throttle energy drink bath.

Nikon D800, 24-70mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/160th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

In top fuel the championship would come down to the final round where Brandon Bernstein would defeat Tony Schumacher on a holeshot. Had Schumacher won the race he would have been an eight time champion, instead his loss would hand the championship to Antron Brown.

Below, Antron Brown celebrates with two of his three children after clinching his first career championship.

Nikon D800, 24-70mm, 200iso, f6.3, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

Along with Antron, wife Billie would be even happier judging by this shot of her and Antron having a little fun with the champions half million dollar bonus check!

Nikon D800, 24-70mm, 500iso, f5, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

Several hours following the race we would still be busy shooting all the winners circle stuff. Near the end my lovely girlfriend Kendra would join me with the new champion for a photo. Congrats to Antron!

Brandon Bernstein celebrates in the winners circle with his family following his first victory in a few years. Good to see the Bernstein name back in the winners circle.

Nikon D4, 70-200mm, 400iso, f7.1, 1/250th, Manual with SB-800 Flash

That brings the 2012 NHRA season to a close. Only a few more weeks until I will be in Palm Beach, FL to cover pre-season testing for 2013. Cant wait!

To see all my imagery from the weekend in Pomona CLICK HERE.

To search my sports archive CLICK HERE and search my archive of over 120 thousand images by driver/athlete name.

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Check out my Facebook page devoted my photography where I routinely share my favorite photos from each shoot as well as favorite photos from the past. Click the below banner to check it out. Be sure to "like" the page so you can be kept up to date on all the events I am doing!