Winter is coming … and so is another epic chapter of the race in Pomona


Winter is coming. This is the watchword of fans in Southern California as the legendary Winternationals officially return to the program for the last weekend of July.

I know… the Winternationals in the middle of summer? Weird, isn’t it? Then again, last year we hosted the Houston-based SpringNationals in October after the FallNationals, but still, the Winternationals should be held in the cooler climates of February, right?

The whole “Winternationals en été” thing has generated a lot of buzz internally, with promotional ideas launched with a Game of thrones-reference “Winter is coming.” My brain went into overdrive. Instead of Khaleesi and his dragons, we have Doug Kalitta and his dragsters; instead of Jon Snow, we have John Force. But I digress.

We won’t have dragons (dang), but there will be plenty of fire for everyone as we are going to have nightly qualifiers on Friday and Saturday, as well as Cacklefests and fireworks. It will be an amazing deal, which you will want to be able to brag about having been there. [Shameless plug: Get your tickets now!]

Since joining the calendar in 1961, the Winternationals have flawlessly kicked off our season and thousands of championship dreams. It was odd enough to consider that it would be held in April, as the third race of the season, as it was originally announced last October, a cautious approach given the unknowns of the pandemic at the time, but in July as race n ° 11? Inconceivable!

But, of course, it’s not the first time we’ve been racing in Pomona this summer. Veterans Pomonaheads well remember 2001 when the NHRA hosted a summer event, the National 50th Anniversary, in the midst of our Golden Anniversary celebration, which gave someone a rare chance to win. the three events of Pomona.

That didn’t happen, although Rick Santos did get close to Top Alcohol Dragster (when the class was known as the Federal-Mogul Dragster… shiver). The four-time world champion won the Winternationals and the final, but lost to Brian Hough in the 50th Nats final.

Angelle Sampey won Pro Stock Motorcycle at the 50th Nats and Finals, but motorcycles, by tradition, have not raced the Winternationals.

“Plucky Bucky” (like us at ND – and, apparently, no one else – used to call him) Austin won the first two of the TAFC (actually the FMFC) and was the best bet for a Pomona sweep when the final rolled out. He qualified third in the final, but was beaten on a 5.71-5.70 stroke in the second round by Von Smith, then found himself in the sand trap to pour some salt into this. injury. And let’s not forget that Austin was a finalist in the fourth event of the year in California, Sonoma, where he lost to our current world champion, Doug Gordon, who a week earlier had won his first career event. in Seattle, at the time of the Western Swing. went Denver-Seattle-Sonoma (1999-2009) as opposed to the traditional Denver-Sonoma-Seattle trifecta.

(Let’s not even talk about 2010, where he went Seattle-Sonoma-Denver in an attempt to create an easterly sweep towards the next event at Brainerd. Good idea. It didn’t work.)

And now, with its new date, the Winternationals are not only in summer but also the third and final stage of Western Swing. It just seems weird.

(As you can clearly see, I drifted along the Stream of Conscious without a paddle.)

Either way, it’s a feel-good moment for Southern Californians (and timeless visitors craving a Double-Double In-N-Out burger; nearby locations here) to have two events again after the final canceled by last year’s COVID-19. We are a bit spoiled, we Angelenos. We had two NHRA national events within a 50 mile radius as early as 1970, when the Supernationals made their Ontario debut a few miles down Interstate 10 from the Pomona track. After Ontario closed in 1980, the finals went to Orange County Int’l Raceway for three years, then to Pomona from 1984 to today.

As even though last year’s Winternationals were billed as the 60th anniversary Winternationals, it really was the 60th edition of the Winternationals, and this year’s Winternationals are actually approaching the 60th anniversary of the first Winternationals, if you follow my view. derivative. (Someone throws me a paddle.)

Anyway, on the historical part of the column (because that’s really what you come here for, right?). I thought I would take a quick look at Results on the Ones, thinking back to the events of 1961, 1971, 1981, 1991, 2001 and 2011 for Good Times.


The first “Big Go West” (the original “Big Go” being the six National Championship Drags held in 1955-60) brought Championship Drag Racing to the LA County Fairgrounds strip which had opened years before under the control of the automobile club. Pomona Choppers. Watch this classic video:

Jack Chrisman drove the Howard Cams Chevy-powered Twin Bears AA / Dragster to Top Eliminator’s first win at the Winternationals. With a makeshift plywood aero profile at the front of the car, Chrisman beat Tom McEwen for top honors. Chrisman won the AA / D class to qualify for the Top Eliminator to go by setting a low and 9 second flat and easily beat McEwen, who had qualified for TE by leading Dick Rea’s blown Chrysler A / D towards a class victory and a 9.46 seconds elapsed time. Mickey Thompson won Middle Eliminator with his Pontiac-powered Tempest, and Dick Manz defeated Frank Pisano (Joe’s brother) for the Little Eliminator title.


Something “Big” happened here in Top Fuel, and if I have to explain it to you, well, you must be new here, but the clue is pictured above.

The Funny Car Trophy came home with Roland Leong for the second year in a row, this time with Butch Maas in the saddle beating Leroy Goldstein. “Ro” was quite robust in the first decade of the Winternationals, winning Top Gas in 1964 (Danny Ongais, pilot), Top Fuel in 1965 (Don Prudhomme) and ’66 (Mike Snively) and Funny Car in 1970 (Larry Reyes)) and 71 (Maas).

Ronnie Sox won his first of six Pro Stock events this year (but not the championship as he didn’t win the world final), beating Wally Booth in the final.

We also lost “Sneaky Pete” Robinson in a terrible qualifying crash. An extremely tragic end for one of the first great innovators in sport.

nineteen eighty one

Seven years after director Tobe Hooper scared the bejesus away with his horror film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Pomona had her own version. The roof of Raymond Beadle’s famous Blue Max Funny Car exploded at the finish line in a winning semi-final, and fellow Texan Kenny Bernstein allowed Beadle to see the roof of his Budweiser King driveway and graft it to the Max for the final round. Beadle lost the final to fellow Texan, Billy Meyer, but not for lack of effort.

Jeb Allen beat Marvin Graham to win Top Fuel, and Bob Glidden, back in his good ol ‘Ford Fairmont after spending two years in a Plymouth Arrow, beat Pat Musi in the latter’s first appearance in the National Final. (Musi would also be a finalist for Frank Iaconio at the Gatornationals a few weeks later and wouldn’t get his long-awaited first Wally until 2010, in Pro Mod at Norwalk.)

Future three-time Top Alcohol Funny Car champion “Bad Brad” Anderson won his first of 24 national titles, beating longtime SoCal rival Chuck Beal for the win.


‘The Beard’ NorCal Top Fuel favorite Frank Bradley won his fourth and final Wally at the same place he had won his first 15 years earlier and did so by beating Don Prudhomme, who was making his first appearance. in a Top Fuel finale. since returning to its fuel dragster roots the year before. It was also the first ‘Snake’ Top Fuel final at Pomona since a finalist behind John Mulligan at the Winternationals 69. Prudhomme would win in Top Fuel later that year, in Columbus over Joe Amato, for his first victory in the category since his unforgettable victory in the United States in 1970.

John Force beat Glenn Mikres to win Funny Car in what, believe it or not, was likely an upheaval. Although Force entered the year after winning their first World Championship, Mikres and the Pisano team owned the event, qualifying No.1 and setting low and top speed in the semi-finals, but no were unable to go down the track against Force in the final.

Like Brad Anderson a decade earlier, future Top Alcohol Dragster world champion Rick Santos won his first of 36 Wallys at the event, beating the late Blaine Johnson in the final.


The “first win” theme continued in 2001 when former Top Alcohol Dragster driver Darrell Russell joined Gary Scelzi and KC Spurlock as the (then) only drivers to score on their pro debut in winning aboard Joe Amato’s Top Fuel dragster with rookie crew chief Jimmy Walsh. Russell beat Mike Dunn in the final; months later, Dunn defeated Russell in the Atlanta Finals for his 22nd and final NHRA event victory.

Russell had already won seven national events in the Alcohol Dragster and would win a total of six in Top Fuel before his tragic death in a crash at the 2004 event in St. Louis.

Bruce Saver scored his second and Funny Car victory in the entry guided by Alan Johnson, stopping Tony Pedregon in the final and Kurt Johnson KO’d Darrell Alderman to win Pro Stock, and as previously mentioned, Santos and Austin won. in the best alcohol classes.


Two teammates settled the Top Fuel final with Morgan Lucas, in his GEICO entry set by Dickie Venables. defeating Shawn Langdon for the win. Langdon, as he usually did (and still does) went out on a Holehot, but the engine went on the high end. It was the fourth time the teammates faced each other and Lucas’s fourth consecutive victory.

It was a John Force Racing v Don Schumacher Racing, Robert Hight v Matt Hagan, for Funny Car honors, and Hight did it on a 4.05-4.02 stroke for his third of four career wins. with Winternationals. Jason Line won Pro Stock, beating four-time Super Stock champion Greg Stanfield, who like his son Aaron today was also very good at Pro Stock, having won the 2010 US Nationals en route to second place. in the championship. behind Line’s teammate Greg Anderson.

So what will the 2021 Winternationals be? Maybe another first-time winner (Alex Miladinovich? Jason Rupert?) Or maybe another Top Fuel all-team-mate final (Torrences, anyone?) Or maybe John Force will win Funny Car for the eighth time in the event (the last victory dates back to 2014). I don’t know, but I know I’ll be there looking forward to everything unfolding. And you? As Steve Evans would implore, “Be there!” [Get tickets]

Phil Burgess can join [email protected]

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