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The latest update as of February 24, 2011

2011 Winternationals race logo

NHRA Winternationals - Day One

Faced with rather ominous looking skies over southern California, and a weather forecast that wasn't too encouraging for the weekend, the 51st annual NHRA Winternationals started with all categories from Super Gas to Top Fuel making their first qualifying attempts at the fabled Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. Nearly every car in attendance got down the track and bump spots were established in the three Pro classes, but the Top Alcohol fields were one short of a full field for both persuasians, floppers and diggers.

Let's take a quick look at the racers we'll be concentrating on over the weekend in each of the eliminators:

Top Fuel

In the first pairing out of the staging lanes, Australia's Terry Sainty took on newly licensed Top Fueler Del Worsham, and acquitted himself well in the Glenn Mikres-tuned Rapisarda Racing dragster. Taking over from last year's pilot, Mark Mariani, Sainty's debut pass on American soil went well until the engine went away well before the 1000 ft. mark. Still, it was enough to place them in the 13th - and currently qualified - position. Good on ya, mate!

In sharp contrast to the final few events on the calendar last year, the Top Fuel contingent did a pretty good job of keeping the innards inside their cars going down the track, with the fireballing exception of Terry McMillen. Terry used up his "freebie" oildown and now has to face some serious punishment if he does it again this season - just 22 and seven -eighths' races to go for that team. Everyone else kept things clean and the usual suspects rose to the top of the charts, with the top three times being identical to the thousandth of a second at 3.804, and only speeds separating them into their respective positions.

All 20 entered drivers appeared and made a pass in this first session, and 14 of them made at least a representative attempt at qualifying. For the first pass(es) of the season for most drivers, the cars and drivers looked good.

Funny Car

Not much to report here, other than two of the 21 entered drivers were no shows, with Jeff "I'm No Dummy" Diehl and James Day not making it to the lanes. Like their longer, skinnier and quicker brethren in the dragsters, the flopper gang mostly made decent runs, with returning veteran Johnny Gray making the most impact with a top qualifying 4.079 pass. Not far behind was last year's world champion John Force, also in the 4-ohs, along with Cruz Pedregon and one of Force's proteges, Robert Hight.

Biggest surprises of the round were Jack Beckman, in a cubic dollar Schumacher car, overpowering the track and Jeff Arend in the Kalitta Toyota running into trouble early too. Underdog extraordinaire, Grant Downing from New Zealand, is working with Chuck Worsham at this race and the twosome failed to make an impact on their first lap together.

Pro Stock

With my well-worn, or shopworn as some would say, views on this category, let's just dwell on the positives: Erica Enders made an early impact statement with her career best e.t. and mph and at the end of the session was still on top of the field at a very strong 6.553 - 211.69. Most of the top runners performed up to their usual standards, with the stunning exception of Mike Edwards, who smoked the tires and carded a 15th best 12-second time.

Everyone's favourite party animal (sorry, but I just couldn't resist) and pre-season testing leader, Allen Johnson, in the Dodge Avenger, was near the top of the list with a strong 6.568 - 211.36, just a few ticks short of Enders and right in the middle of the 6.5 second group that took the top ten spots on the qualifying list. With an adjusted altitude of just 1800 feet and air temperatures in the mid-60's, the Pro Stockers were running under nearly ideal conditions, albeit on a cool (just 78 F) and somewhat green racing surface.

Top Alcohol Dragster

With only 15 cars entered and threatening weather ahead, the first order of business for everyone was to simply get the car down the track and claim a timeslip. And everyone in the lanes did manage that feat; some better than others, with only 8 out of 15 drivers ringing up a competitive elapsed time. Five out of the six blown cars in attendance rang up good times and took five out of the top eight positions on the ladder. Only Hugh Ridley (Chilliwack, BC) and his new driver, James Butler from Arizona, failed to register a 5.4 or better e.t., laying down a very early shutoff 9-second pass to take the #12 spot on the list.

The other two Canadian cars, Shawn Cowie in the Mundie's Towing blown car from Delta, ran a strong 5.31 at an early shutoff 258 mph to take the second spot, just behind top runner Chris Demke. Edmonton's Don St. Arnaud in the A/Fuel car turned a very good, nearly career best, 5.36 at 268 mph to land in the #6 position, surely his highest ranking yet at a national event. A very good start to the season for that team and a continuation of Cowie's early season strong performances. (They won the Division Seven Lucas Oil Series race at Phoenix last weekend with a string of 5.30 passes at over 270 mph - with cumulative bests of 5.284 at 272.01 mph).

The top of the field at Pomona after the first session is filled with the 2,3,4 cars in the 2010 season points standings, blown cars all, with Cowie in the middle of a Demke - Whiteley sandwich. So far this year, Cowie has defeated Whiteley in the final last weekend, and hasn't faced Demke in eliminations, even though he crossed the finish line second Demke in the first qualifier today. The second and third sessions should be quite intense.

Top Alcohol Funny Car

Bad luck seems to follow Brian Hough. It just jumps up and bites him at the most inopportune times, like when the chutes fell out at the start of his burnout in the first qualifying session. Without enough time to repack them behind the starting line, they were forced to shut off and forfeit their first chance to get in the field. With no bump spot due to only 15 cars being entered in the race, Hough can only hope he gets another chance for a qualifying pass before eliminations.

The sole Canadian car in the field, Red Deer, Alberta's Ken Webster in the Wally Protz Monte Carlo, laid down a solid 5.68 at 251 mph to take the #7 spot on the list. The top three cars in the field were all in the low 5.40's, led by a surprisingly strong Bret Williamson, at a career best 5.52 e.t. Interesting to note that aside from Alberta's Webster and Tony Bartone from New York (and Bartone is driving a California car), every car and driver in the category is from California. Not too many serious travelers at the first national event of the season.

Competition Eliminator, etc...

Two Canadian cars in the Comp field, and North Vancouver's Rob Harrison makes an immediate impact in his IGOR-powered '05 Escort, running nearly seven tenths under the index, actually .691 seconds, ringing up a tremendous 7.629 at 177.00 mph in his six cylinder Ford. The time held up for the top number until very late in the first qualifying session, before Rob was bumped down to the #3 slot by two of the heaviest hitting runners in the category.

The other Canuck, Dale Giroux, of Canyon Creek, Alberta, ran a strong 6.97 in his '04 Cavalier and held onto the #9 spot after the first round. Giroux, along with a few others, skipped the second and final qualifying session and subsequently slipped down the ladder to the #13 spot in the final positioning. Harrison did make the second session, but shut off early, but held onto the #3 position, just a hundredth of a second behind the top qualifer and well positioned on the high side of the ladder.

In the other sportsman eliminators, two Regina racers, veteran Abe Lowen - who took the top spot on the Super Stock list - and Grant Singer, joined with Don Thomas of Spruce Grove, Alberta to represent Canada in that category, while not a single Stocker came from north of the border. Two things stood out on the qualifying lists: lots of California cars entered, to be expected, and lots of Mopars among them. In Super Gas, Abbotsford's Marv Wiebe is still in the show after the first round and is only facing 30-1 odds at winning the event. With no Super Comp results posted yet, there's nothing to report on that bracket.

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