POMONA, Calif. – Jack Beckman picked up right where he left off last season by racing to the No. 1 qualifying position in Funny Car Saturday at the Circle K NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

Steve Torrence (Top Fuel) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) also will lead their categories into Sunday’s 11 a.m. eliminations at the season-opening event of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

Beckman, who failed to qualify at this event one year ago but then rallied to post seven wins and set the national record four times en route to challenging for the Funny Car world championship, continued to prove he has the quickest Funny Car in the pits. In the final qualifying pair he clocked a 3.888-second run at 326.16 mph to take his first No. 1 at the Winternationals and 16th of his career. He will open eliminations against John Hale.

“As a hometown guy it’s tough to come out to the first race of the year because there’s a little extra pressure to do well and some stress if you don’t, but we are beyond that,” Beckman said. “It’s clear that [crew chiefs] Jimmy [Prock], John [Medlen] and Chris [Cunningham] are getting a handle on this car. When you see them getting that close you know great things are in store for this team.”

Beckman finished second to eventual world champion Del Worsham last season when Worsham’s DHL Toyota team got hot in the playoffs and won four of the six Countdown events. However, the competition and performance in Funny Car has been elevated largely due to the strides first made by Beckman in his Prock-tuned machine. He understands that there are several cars out here who can win the championship and he and his team will need to be focused to get the job done.

“It’s an exciting time to be a fan of the sport and it’s an exciting time to be a participant,” Beckman said. “We came so close and didn’t get the ultimate prize. I don’t think we need to do anything differently. Del was just spectacular in the Countdown and it worked against us. Any other season we would win the championship by 10 rounds. I’m 49 and at that age you look at things a little differently. Maybe I am a little more motivated to bring my A-game every time out here.”

Beckman’s teammate Ron Capps is second in his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger with a 3.902 at 324.51 and Friday leader Robert Hight qualified third with a 3.913 at 322.04 in his Auto Club Chevy Camaro. Hight has an intriguing matchup as he will face No. 14 qualifier Tommy Johnson Jr., whose Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger was the talk of pre-season testing but has struggled this weekend, posting a best of 4.256 at 225.22.

In Top Fuel, Torrence powered to his sixth career No. 1 qualifying position and his first ever at Pomona, clocking a 3.703 at 328.06 in his Capco Contractors dragster. He will open eliminations against nitro journeyman Steve Faria.

“We weren’t holding anything back,” Torrence said. “The conditions were the best we’ve seen this weekend so we said why not go for it. We’ve got a really good hot rod right now and I just want to do my job and hopefully we can walk away from here tomorrow with one of those little gold men.”

With noted nitro tuning expert Alan Johnson on board as a consultant, Torrence had one of the quickest and fastest cars during last week’s pre-season testing in Phoenix. Now with his qualifying effort and by posting four solid runs during qualifying, Torrence and his team are very confident heading into Sunday’s eliminations.

“I am hoping this translates into a good performance tomorrow and we can keep this momentum going,” Torrence said. I feel like we’ve got something to prove. We need to maintain consistency, keep the car running well and stay on top of it. Bringing Alan into the mix has brought us credibility. It makes the morale and confidence of the team a lot better. I am just a hillbilly country kid that’s out here living a dream and enjoying getting to do what I love to do. We are driving a race car for a living. You have to just take everything with a grain of salt and enjoy it. Not everybody gets to live their dream as a job.”

Doug Kalitta qualified second in his Mac Tools dragster with a 3.713 at 324.51 and Friday leader Tony Schumacher is third with a 3.722 at 323.66. Defending world champ Antron Brown will start seventh in his Matco Tools dragster with a 3.754 at 322.73 and face 2013 champ Shawn Langdon, who qualified 10th with a 3.764 at 320.97 in his Red Fuel dragster.

Anderson earned his 81st career No. 1 qualifying effort in Pro Stock with a performance of 6.585 at 209.62 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro. It is Anderson’s sixth No. 1 at the Winternationals and he will go for his sixth win at this event tomorrow when he faces Matt Hartford in the opening round.

“When you come to the Winternationals you are scared to death about the competition,” Anderson said. “This year with all the changes we were incredibly scared not knowing where everybody was. It’s been a learning curve for everyone and a steep one. To be where we are at right now versus the first time we put an engine on the dyno, we’ve come a long way. Feel fantastic. I knew when we changed the rules and I might’ve shed a tear or two. Right now I am able to forget about it and move on and embrace the challenge and learn to like EFI. I hate to say it, but I am learning to like it.”

Anderson, who won four world championship titles in the old Pro Stock configuration, says he’s looking forward to becoming the first to win under the new rules format for the factory hot rods, which features electronic fuel injection, 10,500 RPM rev limiters, no hood scoops and shortened wheelie bars.

“To qualify one, two and three in our three KB Racing cars, that’s quite an accomplishment,” Anderson said. “The car is probably more friendly to drive than it used to be. They are safer to drive and a little easier to tune. I think when you fast forward three months you will see competition that is tighter than ever in the Pro Stock ranks.”

Jason Line qualified second with a 6.592 at 210.14 in his Summit Camaro and Friday’s top qualifier, Bo Butner, will start third in his Camaro with a 6.594 at 209.30. Defending world champ Erica Enders qualified ninth in her Mopar/Elite Motorsports Dodge Dart, with a 6.651 at 207.88 and will face her teammate in the first round, Jeg Coughlin, who qualified eighth at 6.645 at 208.55 in his Dart.

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POMONA, Calif. — Sunday’s first-round pairings for eliminations for the 56th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, the first of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.  Pairings based on results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings.

Top Fuel — 1. Steve Torrence, 3.703 seconds, 328.06 mph  vs. 16. Steve Faria, 5.135, 123.88; 2. Doug Kalitta, 3.713, 324.51  vs. 15. Scott Palmer, 4.089, 251.44; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.722, 325.22 vs. 14. Terry McMillen, 3.844, 313.00; 4. Richie Crampton, 3.727, 323.66  vs. 13. Troy Buff, 3.843, 315.64; 5. Clay Millican, 3.727, 324.36  vs. 12. Leah Pritchett, 3.804, 314.46; 6. Brittany Force, 3.744, 320.66  vs. 11. J.R. Todd, 3.792, 320.28; 7. Antron Brown, 3.754, 322.73  vs. 10. Shawn Langdon, 3.764, 320.97; 8. Dave Connolly, 3.757, 326.40  vs. 9. Morgan Lucas, 3.759, 324.20.

Funny Car — 1. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.888, 326.16  vs. 16. John Hale, Charger, 4.329, 263.51; 2. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.902, 324.51  vs. 15. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Solara, 4.285, 278.69; 3. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.913, 322.19  vs. 14. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.256, 225.22; 4. Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 3.942, 324.59  vs. 13. James Campbell, Charger, 4.163, 302.41; 5. Del Worsham, Camry, 3.943, 323.04  vs. 12. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 4.124, 281.07; 6. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.945, 326.87  vs. 11. Gary Densham, Charger, 4.050, 307.79; 7. Chad Head, Camry, 3.950, 319.29  vs. 10. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.993, 323.35; 8. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.962, 320.28 vs. 9. John Force, Camaro, 3.964, 322.34.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Bob Bode, 4.356, 283.37; 18. Terry Haddock, 4.571, 194.97.

Pro Stock — 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.585, 209.62  vs. 16. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.746, 206.61; 2. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.592, 210.34  vs. 15. V. Gaines, Dodge Dart, 6.715, 207.37; 3. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.594, 210.14  vs. 14. Deric Kramer, Dart, 6.686, 207.75; 4. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.616, 209.20  vs. 13. Joey Grose, Camaro, 6.674, 207.94; 5. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.623, 208.49 vs. 12. Aaron Strong, Camaro, 6.665, 208.26; 6. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.632, 209.52  vs. 11. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.660, 208.81; 7. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.634, 208.07  vs. 10. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.653, 208.33; 8. Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.645, 208.55  vs. 9. Erica Enders, Dart, 6.651, 208.62.