NHRA Winternationals Finals Coverage
By Justin Banner
For the National Hot Rod Association, there is one event every driver dreams of winning besides the final event. That is the Winternationals held at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in Pomona, California. Since the first event in 1961, the series has been through some major changes. The biggest this year is the title sponsor for the NHRA. Mello Yello has stepped up to become the title sponsor for the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Another change has been some of the safety innovations in Top Fuel from last year and is the most visible. Instead of the typical open canopy system, there is now a closed canopy on four cars, including Brittany Force's rail. Yes, she is of the same Force family as John Force, but instead of Funny Cars, she has taken root in Top Fuel. This will be her first full year in Top Fuel along with rookie Leah Pruett, who made a splash by out qualifying Force in her debut.
Many of the old guard in Pro Stock are really starting to fade out. Names I remember like Warren Johnson, Kurt Johnson, Larry Morgan, and even Greg Anderson really struggled this weekend. Which comes as such a shock to me as when I was active in drag racing, those were the names to beat. Warren Johnson failed to qualify and even Greg Anderson could only muster an 8th Seed. There were even new team ups that I couldn't imagine, like Jeg Coughlin and 2011 Pro Stock Champion Allen Johnson.
In Funny Car, it was nice to see Del Worsham come back as he was a favorite of mine. Another thing to strike me funny, no pun intended, was the use of the Toyota Camry as a body shell for “Toyota” powered Funny Cars. Yeah, I know, Mopars use the Charger but at least it isn't as bland as the Camry. Come on, Toyota, make it an FR-S! At least it's meant to be a sports car. Anyhow, rant and recalling over. Let's get on with the coverage!
|Number One Qualifier in Pro Stock went to Mike Edwards, who used to be in the Penhall Company Pontiac GXP, but is now in the Interstate Batteries/I Am Second Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. He ran a 6.528 at 211 MPH in the Quarter Mile. Keep in mind, Pro Stock does not use any power adders, still uses carburetors, and has no electronics except for the ignition. They even have to shift a five-speed Z-gated gearbox as they run down the strip! Their right hand is rowing the gears while the left hand is steering.|
|Stepping into her old man's shoes, Courtney Force took the top spot in Funny Car. She ran a 4.036 at 318 MPH. Since the passing of Scott Kalitta in 2008, the NHRA has mandated that Top Fuel and Funny Car run to 1000 Feet. Another feature in the Nitro Classes is when the engine has a major malfunction and explodes, the fuel pump shuts off and the parachutes open. It was believed that the concussion of the exploding engine caused Kalitta to get knocked out and not stop his car along with destroying the parachutes. These two mandates are meant to ensure that an uncontrolled car stops or slows to the point that the sand trap will stop them before hitting the final retainer.|
|In Top Fuel, Tony Shumacher took number 1 seed with a pass of 3.753 at 328 MPH. You can also see the new enclosed canopy system used on the Don Shumacher Racing cars and several others. When I first saw this, I thought of an attempt by “Big Daddy” Don Garlits to improve the aerodynamics of his Top Fuel car in the 70s or 80s. He didn't find much success with it and I would later find out that was not the intention of this canopy system. Last year, Antron Brown had an engine explode and blew out his rear tire, causing the rail to roll onto its side. With the traditional open canopy system and the way the front bars are designed on a Top Fuel car, it left him open to a potential impact with a guard rail. Luckily, the wind screen was tall enough and strong enough to deflect the car away from the guard rail. However, a different angle could have badly injured Brown. With the enclosed canopy, this is prevented and, along with a supply of oxygen, can prevent the nitro fumes from overwhelming the driver. The NHRA Safety Safari is able to open the canopy from outside and it will open in an overturned car, from what I understand.|
|To my dismay and surprise, “The Professor” Warren Johnson failed to qualify for the Winternationals. A bigger surprise? 2012 Pro Stock Champion Allen Johnson failed to qualify as well.|
|Despite their best efforts, Larry Morgan and Buddy Perkinson of Larry Morgan Racing failed to make the show in their Ford Mustang entries. This would mean that no Fords would be in the Pro Stock field during the Winternationals.|