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Winternationals Memorable Moment No. 1: Garlits Kicks ’em in the Rear (1971)

Winternationals Memorable Moment No. 1: Garlits Kicks ’em in the Rear (1971)

The near end of Don Garlits’ driving career marked the beginning of a new era in Top Fuel after the cagey Florida veteran, horribly injured in an early-1970 transmission explosion that cut both the chassis of his front-engine Top Fueler and his right foot in half, went back to the drawing board to try to improve on the previously unworkable rear-engine Top Fuel chassis design.

Although rear-engine Top Fuelers had been tried for years, they were cursed, ill-handling machines, and even Garlits’ first passes in the car that he designed from his hospital bed were white-knuckle trips during late-1970 testing. He finally hit upon the right steering ratio, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Just days before the Winternationals, at the same AHRA event at Lions Drag Strip where he had been injured a year before, Garlits rolled out the car to much derision from his fellow stars yet scored runner-up honors.

Then in Pomona and still running without the rear wing he would later add, Garlits qualified No. 9 in the 32-car Winternationals field with a 6.80. He ran progressively quicker in each round before the final, posting low e.t. in three of the five rounds.

Garlits defeated Tommy Allen, 6.85 to 6.89; John Nichols, 6.72 to 6.85; Carl Olson, 6.72 to 10.61; Jim Dunn, 6.70 to 7.58; and, in the final, spun the tires to an uncontested sixth NHRA national event victory at 7.03 against a broken Kenny Safford.

Garlits showed them all the way home and the way to the future, and within two years, the front-engine dragster was extinct in Top Fuel.

Kragen O’Reilly NHRA Winternationals event notebook

Kragen O’Reilly NHRA Winternationals event notebook

Info | Tickets | Schedule | Entries | Results
Team reports | Audiocast | Photos | Video

News and notes from Sunday at the 50th annual Kragen O’Reilly NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. Compiled by the National DRAGSTER staff.

SUNDAY (Previous: Thursday | Friday | Saturday)
Last update: 4 p.m.Pacific (click to latest)

It’s raceday! (9:45 a.m.): Setup is underway for pre-race ceremonies as we prepare to launch the final day of the 2010 Full Throttle season opener. There’s a full slate of stuff scheduled for the pre-race — and throughout the day for that matter — including the unveiling of the top three Winternationals Memorable Moments.

There’s going to be a push-start Cacklefest, special tributes, nostalgia passes, autograph sessions and, oh yeah, we’re going to run some Full Throttle racing, too.

Temps are expected to hit 80 degrees (sorry East Coasters) under beautiful sunny blue skies. The track’s been a little tricky throughout qualifying — very good for some, very difficult for others — and a warm day today won’t help that, which could make for some pedalfests and a real driver’s race.

Special awards (10 a.m.): Brian Hough, Melanie Troxel, and Johnny and Shane Gray are the special award winners at the 50th Anniversary Kragen O’Reilly NHRA Winternationals presented by Valvoline. Hough’s Top Alcohol Funny Car was judged Best Appearing Car. Troxel and her In-N-Out team were named Best Appearing Crew, and the Gray Motorsports Pontiac GXPs driven by Johnny and Shane Gray received Best Engineered Car honors.

We’re racing (11 a.m.): The first pair of Top Fuelers, David Grubnic and Shawn Langdon, are on the track ready to do battle.

Top Fuel round one (11:35 a.m.): The right lane was the lane of chocie, but not always the lane of winners as both Antron Brown (vs. Steve Torrence) and Troy Buff (vs. Morgan Lucas) won out of the left. Buff Tree’d Lucas with a stout .019 light and advanced when the GEICO dragster dropped cylinders and then lost traction on the big end.

Brandon Bernstein got his first win for new sponsor Copart and will face former beer wars nemesis Larry Dixon, who bashed out a 3.799, low for the round. Oddly enough, this time around Bernstein will be the one in blue and Dixon in red.

The biggest jaw dropper came near the end of the round when reigning series champ Tony Schumacher smoked the tires at the hit and should have been dead in the water against fan favorite Chris Karamesines, but "the Greek" had already turned the Tree red with a way-early -.302 leave. Karamesines added insult to injury by smoking the tires, too, then leaving some stuff on the track in the left lane.

"Those young guys get a little jumpy at the Tree sometimes," joked a relieved Schumacher of his 81-year-old opponent. "It felt like a bit of a long Tree, but those things happen. I thought we were going to have to have a pedalfest there. We’re just glad to be going to round two."

Round 2 pairings (lane choice in bold):
Cory McClenathan vs. Shawn Langdon
Doug Kalitta vs. Buff
Dixon vs. Bernstein
Schumacher vs. Brown

Funny Car round one (12:10 p.m.): The right lane again was the lane of choice. Matt Hagan moved there after first saddling up in the left, then won a thrilling pedalfest with Gary Densham. Densham was up in smoke just beofre the 330-foot timer but expertly pedaled it and got back into contention when Hagan’s DieHard Dodge, which hadn’t made it down the right lane all weekend, broke traction not long after. The second-year racer did a great job to recover as well and emerge with a car-length win.

Reigning champ Robert Hight, on the other hand, chose the left lane and paid for it when his Auto Cub Ford got loose 400 feet out and then hooked hard right across the centerline just past halftrack behind Cruz Pedregon. His teammate, Ashley Force Hood, also picked the left lane but made it work (and how!) with a 4.121, low e.t. of the round. Ironically, she’ll face her dad, who had the round’s second quickest pass, a 4.132, in the next round..

In the the closest race of the frame, Del Worsham won a battle of Toyotas by driving around Jeff Arend’s holeshot to win by just .002-second.

Round 2 pairings (lane choice in bold):
C. Pedregon vs. Ron Capps
Bob Tasca III vs. Hagan
Worsham vs. Jack Beckman
Force vs. Force Hood

Pro Stock round one (12:35 p.m.): Interesting spectator on the starting line for Pro Stock: Joe Amato, who was standing behind the right lane checking out the factory hot rods. The Pro Stock racers put on a great show for Amato and everyone else. Mike Edwards was once again low with a 6.604 against Justin Humphreys, but he didn’t have the huge performance advantage like he enjoyed on other runs because Greg Anderson was just four-thousandths behind in his win against Kurt Johnson.

The round included a couple of firsts: Shane Gray notched his first career round-win in Pro Stock, defeating Ron Krisher. Also, Larry Morgan got his first round-win in his new Mustang, getting the nod over Jeg Coughlin Jr., whose car got squirrely off the line, forcing him to click it off.

Round 2 pairings (lane choice in bold):
Edwards vs. Greg Stanfield
Allen Johnson vs. Rodger Brogdon
Morgan vs. Ronnie Humphrey
S. Gray vs. Anderson

Top Fuel round two (1:45 p.m.): Lane choice doesn’t mean anything in the first two pairs as Troy Buff (against Doug kalitta) and Antron Brown (against Tony Schumacher) both smoke the tires in the favored right lane, Buff almost immdiately and "the Brothaman" at about 300 feet. Both Kalitta, the defending event champ, and Schumacher, the defending season champ, advance with 3.92s.

Cory McClenathan makes it down the right lane to low e.t of the frame, 3.855 and will face Kalitta, then Dixon goes him one better with a 3.854 to ,ove into a monster matchup with Schumacher. Dixon is super late staging, almost on the verge of being fouled out, and apologizes publicly to Bernstein for being so late as he was pre-staged too shallow and had a long way to roll

Semifinal pairings (lane choice in bold):
McClenathan vs. Kalitta
Dixon vs. Schumacher

Funny Car round two (2 p.m): Defending event champ Ron Capps takes out "the Cruzer" with a 4.153 and will face Bob Tasca III in the semi’s. Tssca’s red rocket ran 4.196 in besting Matt Hagan.

High drama! The father-daughter matchup starts ugly as Ashley Force Hood’s parachute pops out as she rolls through the water box. They whoa her down before she can burn out and the crew frantically starts repacking it. Fortunately for her, it’s her dad in the other lane, and he’s slowing down his routine. Meanwhile, Capps’ car is locked up on the top end with a broken rear end and the Forces are milliseconds from being shut off  before Capps’ car gets rolling! Crazy! The Family Feud is back on, but AFH will do it without a burnout.

Who needs a burnout? Ashley runs 4.187, but her dad is there well ahead with low e.t. of the round, 4.120. He’ll face Beckman, who beats an up-in-smike Del Worsham.

Semifinal pairings (lane choice in bold):
Capps vs. Tasca
Beckman vs. Force

Pro Stock round two (2:10 p.m.): Round two looked much like round one with Mike Edwards and Greg Anderson showing the way. Edwards was tops again with a 6.610 to defeat Greg Stanfield, and though Anderson was No. 2 again but this time was further back, posting a 6.626 against Shane Gray.

Edwards and Anderson will each face a new-for-2010 car as Larry Morgan wheeled his new Mustang ride past Ronnie Humphrey and Allen Johnson put his new Avenger in the semi’s when he defeated a red-lighting Rodger Brogdon.

Semifinal pairings (lane choice in bold):
Edwards vs. Johnson
Morgan vs. Anderson

Top Fuel semifinals (3:10 p.m.): Doug Kalitta makes it two straight Winternationals final-round appearances in a row as he beats low qualifier Cory Mac, 3.84 to 3.86. He’ll face off with another former Winternats winner either way in either Larry Dixon or Tony Schumacher.

The two guys who finished just two points apart in last year’s championshop race are thisclose again as they run identical e.t.s and speeds — 3.836 at 317.05 — and it’s only Dixon’s .068 to .085 holeshot that separates them at the win stripe.

Dixon will have lane choice.

Funny Car semifinals (3:20 p.m.): It’s been more than a year since John Force last won an event, but it looks like he plans on fixing that in a hurry. The 14-time world champ has lived in the 4.12s all day, and he does it again here to defeat a tire-smoking Jack Beckman.

Force’s win prevented an all-Don Schumacher Racing final because in the first pair of the round, Ron Capps defeated Bob Tasca III, who hazed the tires immediately.

Capps clocked a 4.15 on his winning run, meaning Force will get lane choice in the final.

Pro Stock semifinals (3:25 p.m.): Nothing unexpected here as Mike Edwards and Greg Anderson get the better of Allen Johnson and Larry Morgan. In the first pairing, Morgan cut a stellar .007 light, but it wasn’t enough to move him past Anderson, who put a 6.63 on the boards.

Edwards continues to be the star of the class with a 6.615 that easily defeated Johnson and gives him lane choice for the final.

More nostalgia runs (4 p.m.): The tribute nostalgia Funny Cars returned to the track for another round of racing. Josh Crawford made it to the line this time in the Blue Max Mustang alongside James Day and the L.A. Hooker Arrow and ripped to a new low e.t./top speed for the weekend with a 5.92 at 243.24. Day ran a respectable 6.23, 233.92. Crawford’s number didn’t last long as Leah Pruett LeDuc powered the Plueger & Gyger ’71 Mustang to a stunning 5.70, 243.11,the quickest pass in nostalgia Funny Car history. Jon Capps and the Jungle Jim ’71 Camaro got loose in the other lane and had to shut off.

Ed Schwartz powered the Beach City Corvette to a 6.22 at 232.79 while Twig Zeigler struggled to an 8.56 in his Pizza Haven Satellite. The round closed with a smoky single by Ed Dougler in the Fighting Irish Camaro and a solid 7.06, 207.75 pass by Mike Boyd and the Marcellus & Borsch Winged Express fuel altered.

Up next: Cacklefest!!
Final rounds (5:15 p.m.): Mike Edwards earns a Winternationals Pro Stock title to go with his 1981 Modified Wally by defeating Greg Anderson, who beat him in the 2006 final here, 6.57 to 6.61. Right behind that breakthrough, John Force breaks a 20-month winless drought by defeating Ron Capps for Funny Car honors on a holeshot, 4.124 to 4.123. We conclude a magnificient weekend with another "comeback" of sorts as Larry Dixon, who didn’t qualify here last year due to rain-shortened qualifying, goes the distance by beating defending event champ Doug Kalitta in the final, 3.80 to 3.84.

That’s it from the incredible 50th anniversary Kragen O’Reilly NHRA Winternationals. More amazing memories have been built that no doubt also will be celebrated in the years ahead.

Saturday, at the track (11 a.m.):
While much of the East Coast (and Dallas!) tries to shovel its way out of record snowfalls, it’s another glorious day in Pomona, where the sun is shining and the temps is already 67 on its way up to a race-engine-happy 71, and t-shirts and shorts are even the uniform of the day for many. If that’s not enough to make your shivering bones jealous, there’a all of the nostalgia goodness going on everywhere.

The Golden 50 Corral is just swamped with people checking out the vintage iron and being entertaiend every few minutes by various cars being started (or "cackled," in the venacular of the group). The line for the Legends autograph session, which just started, began forming a good 90 minutes early and snakes around the huge Golden 50 compound.

We’re running Super Comp right now with the first round of Comp just around the corner and the first of two Pro sessions after that, at around noon, That number is a bit optimistic based on the schedule now; figure closer to 12:30 or maybe even 1 p.m.

Pro Stock, session three (12:50 p.m.): Wow, another demoralizing run by Mike Edwards, who goes low for the weekend with a 6.578. Edwards was one of only four of yesterday’s top 12 to improve. The other three were the Summit cars. Bump right now is V. Gaines at 6.661.

Funny Car, session three (1:50 p.m.): Matt Hagan led the flopper contingent with a  4.091 that moved him up to fourth on the sheets. Polesitter Robert Hight, who was the first car out after struggling in yesterday’s lone session, was second best with a 4.10, and Ashley Force Hood, who got bumped to fifth by Hagan, was the third-quickest driver with a 4.12.

Top Fuel, session three (2:25 p.m.): Though it did not improve his position in the field, Tony Schumacher’s 3.828 was the best run of this TF qualifying session. Thursday leader and Schumacher’s teammate Cory McClenathan was next best with a 3.838, and defending event champ Doug Kalitta ran the third-quickest time, a 3.871. Steve Faria is the current bump driver at 5.610.

Nostalgia passes (3:05 p.m.): We’ve seen a few of the running nostalgia cars making passes down the fabled Pomona quarter-mile. Earlier, Mike Boyd made an easy 7.13, 201.52 pass in the famed Winged Express fuel altered, which was followed to the track after the first Pro session by eight of the "tribute" nostalgia Funny Cars.

Leah Pruett LeDuc steered the Plueger & Gyger Mustang to a stout 5.97, 228.85 alongside the 6.41, 163.72 of Mike Savage in the Candies & Hughes Barracuda. Ed Schwartz then powered the cool Beach City Corvette to a career-best 6.28 at 237.28 next to Jeff Utterback and the Pisano & Matsubara Vega, who smoked the tires to a, 11.77. Both Ed Dougan in the Fighting Irish Camaro and Twig Ziegler in his Pizza haven Satellite had woes and ran 8.31 and 9.11, respectively. The round closed with Jon Capps, brother of Full Throttle star Ron, in the Jungle Jim ’71 Camaro against Josh Crawford in the Blue Max ’69 Mustang. Crawford was shut off behind the line and watched Capps motor to a 6.73 202.27.

Delayed (4:35 p.m.): An oildown during the nostalgia Funny Car session as well as two crashes in Comp have put us behind. Pro Stock was originally slated for 3 p.m., but we are still in Comp. Pro Stock will be up once Comp is completed.

Pro Stock, session four (5:20 p.m.): Mike Edwards swept the qualifying bonus points, nabbing the final three on the table with a 6.589 run in the final session. Allen Johnson was equally impressive on his pass, clocking a 6.595 that moved him up to fourth. Jeg Coughlin Jr. was third quickest at 6612. Justin Humphreys ended up in the 16th and final spot in the field with a 6.650.

WFO Radio Saturday show (5:45 p.m.): The On-Demand audio from this weekend’s special editions of WFO Radio with Joe Castello live from the 50th annual Winternationals in Pomon is now available at: Saturday’s special guests include John Force, Antron Brown, Ron Capps, Jeg Coughlin Jr., Bob Tasca III, Thomas Nataas, Graham Light, Bobby Bennett, Susan Wade, and Louis Brewster.
Funny Car session 4 (5:50 p.m.): Early inthe session, which is now being run under the lights, Terry Haddock has a moderate-sized fire trying to bump into the field. He’s OK, but we’re down for oil.

Bob Tasca III went from clinging to life as the bubble sitter to top-four qualifier with a 4.075 that was best of the round. John Force ranked second in this session with a 4.09 clocking. Jack Beckman was next with a 4.104. Robert Hight smoked the tires on his final pass but remained No. 1 thanks to his 4.059 from Thursday. Cruz Pedregon jumped into the show with a last-ditch 4.300 that earned him the 16th spot and a first-round match with Hight.

Top Fuel, session four (6:45 p.m.): Cory McClenathan led a spectacular night session that included much improvement and a lot of shuffling. Cory Mac clocked a 3.787 to jump back to the top of sheets. Larry Dixon, who was No. 1 after Friday, also improved, to a 3.788 to hold on to No. 2. Tony Schumacher improved a position, to third, with a 3.801 that was third-quickest of the final session.


TGIF (9:50 a.m.): Welcome to Friday, Day Two of the season-opening Kragen O’Reilly NHRA Winternationals from sunny Pomona, Calif., where the only snow is on the mountains behind the track.

Right now, Super Stock eliminations are underway, which will be followed at 11 a.m. by the event’s final Comp qualifying session then the first of two alky sessions. The Pros take to PArker Avenues at 3 p.m.

Later today, aorund 3:30 p.m. local, just before today’s lone nitro session, we’ll unviled Winternationals Memorable Moment No. 5. Tomorrow we’ll reveal No. 4 and then Sunday we’ll have a hig-three countdown. With each announcement, we’ll post a story and photo of the revealed moment(s) on the Winternationals Web site.

Force play: Yesterday was a pretty stellar day for John Force Racing with Robert Hight taking the pole wth the second fastest 1,000-foot speed and Ashley Force Hood No. 3. Team boss John Force, with the addition of sidelined driver Mike Neff turning wrenches with Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly, hit a sour note with a disqualified time, NHRA issued statement the read, in part, “In review of the data, it was determined by Compulink Timing System representatives that Force’s Castrol GTX Ford Mustang left the starting line prior to the timing system activating. Once the timing system started Force’s car had advanced forward and the rear-wheel on his car was recognized by the beams at the starting line and initiated the elapsed time clock in his lane, thus resulting in the 3.800 second elapsed time.”

Hight’s speed on his 4.059 low-qualifying pass was 312.86, second only to Matt Hagan’s 313.88 last fall in Las Vegas. Hight, who owns the quickest 1,000-foot e.t. at 4.005, set in 2008 in Richmond, also has the third-fastest speed, 312.57, also set last year in Vegas. Del Worsham’s 312.35 from yesterday is the fourth fastest in 1,000 speeds.

Pro Stock, session two (3:20 p.m.): No surprise here — Mike Edwards was low in the second qualifying session, clicking the lone 6.5, a 6.599. Edwards stays No. 1 on the strength of his 6.58 from yesterday. Jeg Coughlin Jr. remains second, and Ron Krisher, who had the second-quickest run of this session, is third. Allen Johnson, who ranks fifth heading into tomorrow’s final two qualifiers, was the third-quickest driver.

WFO Radio live at Pomona (3:30 p.m.): WFO Radio’s Joe Castello has been broadcasting live from the event today at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. He just wrapped up a show that included Brandon Bernstein, Greg Anderson, Jason Line, Robert Hight, Larry Dixon, Del Worsham, and National DRAGSTER editor Phil Burgess. You can listen to an on-demand rebroadcast of the show here.

Tomorrow, Castello will have Ashley Force Hood, Ron Capps, Bob Tasca III, Jeg Coughlin, John Force, and Antron Brown on from 10 a.m. – noon Pacific (1 – 3 p.m. ET). If you miss it, that show also will be available for later listening.

WFO Radio with Joe Castello covers all forms of motorsports, and airs live every Monday – Thursday, 7 – 8 pm ET (4 – 5 pm PT).  Every show is available for download and listen within 15 minutes following the conclusion of each show. Tuesday is reserved for NHRA topics only.

Top Fuel session 2 (3:45 p.m.): The going as slow as we have back-to-back boomers in the right lane, first with Steve Chrisman and then with England’s Andy Carter. Carter has "Big Daddy" Don Garlits with him this weekend as a sponsor and consultant and, after his fiery ride, Carter probably is thanking Garlits for putting the cockpit ahead of the engine. We’re down for a big cleanup.

Top Fuel, session two (4:30 p.m.): Larry Dixon shot to the top of the sheets with a 3.795, the lone 3.7-second clocking of the weekend. That bumped Cory McClenathan, who was unable to improve his 3.809, down to second. Morgan Lucas jumped up to the third spot with a 3.823 that was second quickest of this sesssion. Tony Schumacher was the third best of the session with a 3.835 that seeds him fourth heading into tomorrow’s final two sessions. Troy Buff, who finished fourth yesterday, slipped to the No. 12 spot, and his 3.950 is the final time that transfers to Saturday.

A dream opportunity (5:05 p.m.): Having grown up in the sport, including many trips to the Winternationals, Top Fuel low qualifier Larry Dixon is ecstatic to be part of the golden anniversary of the fabled event. "As a kid growing up, my dad won this race, so being able to compete in it and race in it was almost realistic goals, said Dixon. "You had the Big Go in Indy and the Big Go West, and everybody who was somebody would come to this event. These races at Pomona and obviously at Indy, the races that have been on the tour 50-plus years now, they mean a lot, certainly to me. I’m 43 years old now, and I can honestly say every year of my life I have been to the Winternationals, and that’s cool. It’s a part of my life, so to be able to compete at the 50th and know that you have a chance to win the race now that you known that you’re qualified is an honor. I feel privileged to be able to do this."

Funny Car, session two (5:20 p.m.): That was a tough session with many drivers struggling to make it downtrack, including polesitter Robert Hight. The lone exception was Hight’s boss, John Force, who clocked a 4.066 early in the session to move up to the third spot. The next-best run in the qualifyng round was the 4.167 by Ron Capps. Tony Pedregon was third quickest with a 4.189 that places him 12th, the final time that transfers to Saturday. Del Worsham remains No. 2.

Another round of qualifying in the Alcohol classes is next on the agenda, followed by a Super Comp time-trial session, then that will be a wrap for today.

9:30 a.m.: Welcome to the 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series and what proimises to be an outstanding curtain lifter to the  23-race campaign. Just three months after leaving this historic venue following the 2009 curtain closer, we’re back at fabulous Parker Avenue, under a gorgeous blue Southern California sky. It had rained hard here all last week and again on Tuesday, clearing just in time for pit parking and to set the stage with the traditionally spectacular snowcapped-mountain backdrop we’ve come to expect.

There’s an awful lot of tap this weekend with nostalgia running deep and thick. The Golden 50 Corral is packed with vintage iron, heroes of the sport are just around every corner, the new paint schemes are glistenening, and we’re running race cars. You can find a detailed schedule of special events and appearances here, which includes autograph sessions and Cacklefests.

Tomorrow we’ll unveil Winternationals Memorable Moment No. 5 from the remaining finalists, then No. 4 on Saturday. We’ll have the representatives for the top three onstage Sunday as we count down to the top moment.

In case you haven’t seen it, check out the 50th Winternationals Web site, which is packed with info about this event’s great history, and includes some great video. You can also buy cool stuff from the store there, like the History of the NHRA Winternationals book or the DVD. The book also will be on sale near the Golden Corral for anyone who’s here and wants a copy. There are daily specials on the book, too, if you’re among the first buyers each day!

Burgers are back: Helping to celebrate the return to NHRA Drag Racing of Southern California’s iconic and much-desired burger chain In-N-Out, Melanie Troxel and her new In-N-Out Burger Funny Car made a guest appearance last night at a local store just a few miles from the racetrack.

There was a strong turnout of NHRA fans who came by to wish Troxel well, and the stunning new Funny Car also drew hordes of interested onlookers from the restaurant’s normal clientele.

It’s not the first time that Troxel has shoed an In-N-Out machine as she also drove for the popular chain back in the late 1990s, in Alcohol Dragster, and scored a national event win in Seattle.

Golden 50 photo gallery (12:35 p.m.): We just posted a photo gallery of some of the magnificent machines in the Golden 50 display. Check it out here.

Pro Stock, session one (4 p.m.): It may be a new year, but things it’s the same ol’, same ol’ in Pro Stock. Mike Edwards, who is sporting the big No. 1 on the side of his GXP, sits atop the sheets after the first qualifying session of the weekend. Edwards wheeled his car to a 6.580 to grab the provisional pole. Jeg Coughlin Jr. ranks second with a 6.591, followed by Ron Krisher (6.595), Rodger Brogdon (6.603), and Allen Johnson (6.611). John Nobile is in the 12th spot at 6.660. Surprisingly, Summit drivers and former world champs Greg Anderson and Jason Line both had troubles on their runs and sit outside the field with respective 13.51 and 7.23 clockings.

Funny Car, session one (4:40 p.m.): The floppers are currently on the track, and the first session of the year is off to an odd start. John Force and Matt Hagan just ran, and when the two went through the finish line, a 3.80 flashed on the scoreboards in Force’s lane. Considering the best Funny Car 1,000-foot time to date is a 4.00, so Force’s time is not legit and will be thrown out. It’s unfortunate because Hagan clocked a 4.10 next to Force and the two were glued together all the way downtrack. Official word is Force’s run was a rear-wheel start, and that’s why the faulty time came up. More on the session to come.

Sold out (4:40 p.m.): All of the more than 350 tickets to Saturday night’s Legends Dinner have been sold. The Legends Dinner will feature drivers from each of the five decades that the Winternationals has been contested. The drivers slated to be formally involved in the panel discussion include Garlits, Dixon,  Bob Glidden, Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins, Shirley Muldowney, Kenny Bernstein, John Force, Joe Amato, and Tony Schumacher.

Funny Car, session one (5 p.m.): Another class and another reigning champ sitting No. 1. Reigning Funny Car world champ Robert Hight joined Pro Stock champ Mike Edwards as a No. 1 qualifier, pacing the field with a 4.059. Del Worsham ended up second with a 4.06, and Ashley Force Hood sits third with a 4.09. Tony Pedregon holds the 12th spot at 4.377.

Top Fuel, session one (5:50 p.m.): Cory McClenathan let the Top Fuel contingent with a 3.809 at 320.05, the fourth fastest speed in history. Shawn Langdon sits second after posting a 3.847, and Norwegian runner Thomas Nataas is a surprise No. 3 with a 3.88. Antron Brown is the current No. 12 driver after posting a sluggish 8.361.

Winternationals Memorable Moment No. 2: ‘Grumpy’ Rules First Pro Stock Go (1970)

Winternationals Memorable Moment No. 2: ‘Grumpy’ Rules First Pro Stock Go (1970)

With the increase in national events from four to seven to create the Super Season, anticipation had reached unprecedented heights for the 1970 Winternationals, a fever stoked by the debut of the newly created Pro Stock class.

The Mopar teams had worked feverishly during the off-season to prepare the ’70 Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Barracuda entries for the elite factory drivers, and the remaining Mopar competitors showed up with their equally potent reworked ’68 Darts and Barracudas. The Ford factory campaigners arrived with Mustangs, Mavericks, and Mercury Cougars, and the underdog independent Chevy contingent consisted primarily of ’68 and ’69 Camaros.

The Sox & Martin team, which had scored three Super Stock victories at four events in 1969, was heavily favored entering the event and proved those touts accurate by qualifying No. 1 with a 10.006, easily outperforming the No. 2 qualifier, Chevy stalwart Bill Jenkins, who posted a 10.088 at the wheel of the same big-block-powered Grumpy’s Toy IV ’68 Camaro that he had raced in Super Stock.

Jenkins, though, showed the mastery of the class that would reward him well throughout the decade and opened Sunday’s first round with a 9.98, low e.t. of the meet, then roared through the field to face Ronnie Sox in the final.

Jenkins was the only driver to dip into the nines, wheeling to three sub-10-second runs in eliminations. He sandwiched a pair of 9.98s around an early-shutoff 10.26 in respective victories against Bill Hielscher, Mike Fons, and a red-lighting Dick Landy. In the final, Jenkins left first and never looked back, running 9.99, 139.53 (top speed of the meet) against Sox’s 10.12.

Garlits rear-engine dragster debut, win named top Winternationals moment

Garlits rear-engine dragster debut, win named top Winternationals moment

Winternationals Memorable Moment No. 3: Up, Up, and Away (1989)

Winternationals Memorable Moment No. 3: Up, Up, and Away (1989)

Fresh off a remarkable 1988 season in which his bright yellow Super Shops/Pennzoil Nuclear Banana Top Fueler had become the first to run in the four-second zone, Eddie Hill’s career continued to rise at the 1989 season opener, but not so much in a great way.

During Friday qualifying, the front wings on Hill’s dragster slipped into an upright position as he approached the finish line, lifting the front end. As air got under the nose, lifting it even higher, the rear wing tripped the clocks at 5.210, 236.15, then the dragster did a backward somersault, rolled right side up, and struck nose first, deploying the parachutes and slowing as it tumbled down the track. Except for the roll cage and driver’s compartment, the car was destroyed, but Hill suffered only bruised knees.

“It happened so suddenly, it was out of my hands,” said Hill, who had plenty of crashes in a long career in asphalt and boat drag racing. “Once I started crashing, I covered up my pretty parts [face] with my hands and closed my eyes. I tried to ball up like I learned in boat racing; you know, whatever sticks out goes in the water. My sore knees were self-inflicted when I jerked up to get into the ball position and hit the control panel. It wasn’t any problem getting out of the car. I was gonna sit there, and then I saw the fuel tank on fire and got right out.”
Amazingly, Hill returned in a car borrowed from Darrell Gwynn to qualify for the event and stage an amazing comeback, making the field at the eleventh hour. Ironically, his effort paired him against Gwynn in round one, but Hill discovered a four-inch crack in his last engine block that morning that left him unable to race but with the admiration of the Pomona fans.

Cory Mac, Hight, Edwards take top spots in Pomona qualifying

Cory Mac, Hight, Edwards take top spots in Pomona qualifying

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Reigning NHRA Full Throttle champs Robert Hight and Mike Edwards held on throughout qualifying to the top spots they first earned Thursday and Cory McClenathan took back the lead he lost Friday as qualifying concluded at the 50th annual Kragen O’Reilly NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

The third day of the golden anniversary event was highlighted again by autograph sessions with the heroes of the sport, as well as runs by tribute nostalgia Funny Cars and the famed Winged Express fuel altered, and a static Cacklefest of early iron  in front of the main grandstands just before the final Pro qualifying session.

Cory McClenathan

McClenathan, who led qualifying Thursday, returned to the top spot with a 3,787 from his Todd Okuhara- and Phil Shuler-tuned Fram dragster. McClenathan’s 320.05-mph speed matched his previous best here.

“We saw the air getting better and better as the time went on,” said McClenathan. “What did we have to lose? We had nothing to lose here. We knew both cars would run good here. We knew Tony’s car would run just about like ours if not just a tick better. We knew Larry would be out there trying to run hard. Todd [Okuhara] said, ‘It’s going to be all or nothing. It’s going to go all the way, or it’s going to go about 60 feet, so be ready.’ By the time it got to half-track, I knew it was on a good run. It’s gratifying. I owe it to Todd and Phil [Shuler] and all the guys who work on this Fram car. They’ve done an awesome job through the off-season and into testing and were very prepared for this weekend.

“To be able to go out there and get the No. 1 back on the last shot and have it for tomorrow, that’s awesome. Now the big thing is can you take that No. 1 and parlay that into a win tomorrow. That’s the big question, so we’re going to try and do that, be very consistent and go out there each run and don’t race the guy next to you, race the racetrack. That’s what we’re going to do tomorrow."

Cory Mac had to hold off the final pair of the night, Larry Dixon and Tony Schumacher, who blasted side by side down the track and ran impressively, 3.788 and 3.801, but both fell just short of McClenathan. Defending event champ Doug Kalitta raced up into the No. 4 spot with a strong 3.822, the fourth best run of the round.

Morgan Lucas is qualified fifth with a 3.830 recorded Saturday night. Behind him to round out the top eight are Steve Torrence and Norway’s Thomas Nataaas, who both ran 3.844 (the higher ranking went to Torrence based on a superior speed), and Lucas’ teammate, Shawn Langdon (3.847).

Former Alcohol Dragster racer Steve Faria qualified for the field for the second straight season with a 5.610. He’ll face McClenathan in the first round Sunday.

Robert Hight

Hight maintained his perch atop the Funny Car roost, a position he has owned with his Jimmy Prock-tuned Automobile Club of Southern California/John Force Racing Mustang since his opening lap of 4.059 Thursday. It’s his 33rd No. 1 qualifying effort.

“I didn’t think it would hold,” said Hight. “We were definitely trying way too hard tonight. I just saw our data, and it was a moon shot, but last night when the conditions we’re cool, our car was a little weak and shook, so Jimmy Prock was not going to make that mistake again. He said actually the dragsters don’t have a driveshaft that was as high as mine, so it didn’t have a prayer. What is awesome is we got one good run in today. We were second the first session; [Matt] Hagan ran .09 and we ran .10, and ours was backed off pretty good. That’s really what’s going to win this race tomorrow, runs like that and going down this racetrack. You know, 4.09, 4.10, that will win this race, so I think we’re set up for that.

“But there are no easy rounds. I’m racing the 2008 Funny Car champ, Cruz Pedregon, first round. We know he’s always tough. We’re just going to do the best we can. I definitely am surprised the .059 held up. There’s a lot of good cars capable of doing that, and this racetrack is premier, probably too good and that’s why guys are having trouble shaking."

Several drivers took final shots at Hight’s top spot, including fellow Ford runner Bob Tasca III, who when from 15th to fourth with a 4.075 with the Quick Lane/Motorcraft Shelby. Between them are No. 2 qualifier Del Worsham and the Al-Anabi Toyota at 4.062 and John Force, in his best showing in quite some time with his 25th anniversary Castrol GTX Mustang (4.066).

Matt Hagan sits fifth with his new DieHard Dodge at 4.091 with Ashley Force Hood (4.093), Jack Beckman (4.101), and Jim Head (4.131) rounding out the top eight.

Former world champ Cruz Pedregon bumped his way into the field from the No. 18 spot with a last-ditch, early shutoff 4.30 and landed his Snap-on Toyota on the bump spot. He’ll take on Hight in round one Sunday. Among those missing the show was Paul Lee, in his debut with Jim Dunn’s Canidae entry.

Mike Edwards

Edwards had the quickest run of both qualifying sessions as he did on both Thursday and Friday to sweep all four bonus qualifying points and lock up his 10th straight No. 1 qualifying berth dating back to the middle of last season. Edwards’ final effort, a 6.589 in his Penhall/Interstate/K&N Pontiac, was slower than his run of a record, 6.578, but still the quickest of the final session

“When you work all winter and everybody else works all winter, you don’t know where you stack up, so you don’t really know what to expect,” said Edwards, who earned his 23rd career No. 1 spot. “My guys just did an awesome job today. They just made some really, really good calls. We made a really good run the first run today and kind of tried some things there tonight and just didn’t feel like we got what we needed, but I’m really proud of my guys and the effort they put in. It feels real good to come out here and run good starting off the year

“It’s a long season, but any time you can come out here and perform the way we did this weekend and run good, that’s our goal, to be as competitive as we can and run as fast as we can. We’ve done that for the last couple days. Tomorrow, it’s a different kind of approach, but you’ve still got to go out there and race. But we’re very, very pleased with our performance."

Jeg Coughlin (6.591) and Ron Krisher (6.595) held onto their Nos. 2 and 3 positions in the field with their Chevy Cobalts. Coughlin’s final effort, a 6.612, was the round’s third quickest. The round’s second-best run belonged to Allen Johnson, who joined the Pomona 6.5-second club with a strong 6.595 from his new Mopar Avenger to grab the No. 4 spot. Behind him are Rodger Brogdon (6.603), Greg Anderson (6.608), Vinnie Deceglie (6.613), and Greg Stanfield (6.617).

Larry Morgan qualified in his Ford debut, putting the Lucas Oil Mustang in the No. 15 spot with a 6.645 best. Justin Humphreys, who began the final session in the 15th spot, got knocked down one place by Johnny Gray and ended up on the bump at 6.650. He’ll face off with Edwards in round one. Gray’s son, Shane, qualified for the field in his Pro debut in the No. 14 position. Among those not making the field were Warren Johnson, V. Gaines, and top 10 finisher Rickie Jones.

Related stories:
Thursday: Champs Hight, Edwards lead their fields in Pomona; Cory Mac fronts Top Fuel
Friday: Dixon takes Pomona Top Fuel lead as other Thursday leaders remain No. 1