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The latest update as of February 11, 2016

BIG numbers from the first session of Top Alcohol qualifying at the Winternationals


As I predicted in this morning's (see below) update in this space, the conditions were nearly perfect for the blown alky and injected nitro racers at Pomona this afternoon. First out of the lanes were the Funny Cars and the two best cars from last season, Jonnie Lindberg and John Lombardo Jr, led the way with the only 5.40 passes of the session. Taking top spot was Lombardo with an excellent 5.46 at 271.35, while Lindberg was close behind at 5.48 and 259 mph. The two racers were matched in the final pair and obviously saved the best for last, putting on a great show for the fans. Looking at the incremental numbers revealed that while Lombardo was quicker to 60 feet, Lindberg took over at that point and was in front until almost the 1000 ft. mark before falling back in the last few hundred feet.

The gap between the number one and three cars was a full tenth, as Brian Hough's very good 5.57 pass for the #3 spot was well back of the number 1 and 2 cars. The top half of the 16-car field was anchored by the other Swede, Ulf Leanders, in at 5.64, nearly a tenth of a second ahead of the #9 car. With another qualifying session on tap for tomorrow and a final one Saturday morning, the also-rans should be able to sort out their problems and tighten the field quite a bit.

It didn't take long for the fireworks to start when the dragsters began running, as in the second pair Don St. Arnaud turned a career best e.t. of 5.181, coupled with the second fastest speed in the history of Top Alcohol, 285.05 mph. He certainly picked up right where he left off at the end of the 2015 season, and then some, as he put a huge number up on the board for the rest of the field to shoot at. In the very next pair, fellow Canadian Gord Gingles, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, notched his own career bests at 5.234 - 276.35 mph. Incredible stuff and what a way for those racers to start the season.

The first blown car came to the line in the second to last pairing of the round as Shawn Cowie tried to match wheels with Duane Shields. Unfortunately, it wasn't even close as Shields pulled out a half-tenth lead in the first 60', and kept stretching it all the way down track until he lit up the boards with a third best of the day 5.236 at 271.13, to leave Cowie's vey good 5.349 - 270.70 well behind at the finish.

Closing out the round were the top two cars in the world championship chase from 2015, and Joey Severance just nipped arch-rival Chris Demke, 5.255 to 5.263. Demke did card a bigger speed at 275.11 over Severance's 272.39, but as we all know, it's elapsed time that wins races and takes low qualifying spots. The only problem for the final pair was that they took the #4 and #5 spots on the preliminary ladder.

With one out of three qualifying sessions in the books, I can hardly wait to see what everyone - especially the top cars in each category - can do for the rest of the weekend. You really do have stay tuned to Drag Race Central or this space to see what develops.

11:00 AM - The 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series kicks off at Pomona

Sportsman qualifying is already underway at Auto Club Raceway at the Pomona Fairgrounds. The first really loud cars will hit Parker Avenue in the late afternoon and we'll finally - after three months of silence - get to see, hear, and read about Top Alcohol again. Following them tomorrow at 1:00 pm will be the Pro classes and it will all culminate with final eliminations on Sunday afternoon.

The weather doesn't appear to be a factor at this time, much like last year's event, with temperatures in the mid-80's today and holding near that mark throughout the weekend. With some cloud cover expected on Friday and Saturday. The track temps shouldn't be too high to affect traction, and relatively low humidity (no more than 30%) should play into the hands of the tuners. With the previous week's "spring training" having taken place just a few hundred miles east, with similar weather conditions, the racers should be able to hit the ground running and post some big numbers right away.

In Top Alcohol Dragster, there's a very pronounced imbalance for the choice of induction, with just three blown alky entries, versus thirteen injected fuelers. However, two of the three blown cars were in the finals at this race last year (Chris Demke and Shawn Cowie), and the third one, Joey Severance, lost in the semi-finals but went on to win the world championship. In other words, three very strong and capable cars to battle the nitro guys. With no changes in the class rules over the winter, the fuel cars will not have any advantage, and if the air temps stay on the high side, the supercharged contingent will be in a very good position to repeat last year's successes.

On the Funny Car side of the alcohol pits, there's 19 cars entered, with the majority being from the West Coast, primarily California. There are, however, two Swedish cars in the field, including last year's world champion Jonnie Lindberg, and an Australian (Steven Ham) who currently makes Ohio his home. Also in the mix are newly-licensed Fuel Funny Car driver, Brian Hough, and Clint Thompson from Oregon. Last year's finalists were the aforementioned Lindberg and Hough, with the Swede taking the win, low e.t. and top speed, and top qualifying spot as he started a very successful season.

With an emphasis on Canadian content, we'll be watching all the Canuck and Northwest Division cars throughout the weekend, with a close eye on Delta's Shawn Cowie in the "Mundie's Towing" entry, and Edmonton's Don St. Arnaud. At last year's edition of the Winternationals, St. Arnaud blasted his way into the NHRA record books with a new speed mark at 285.35, and low e.t. of the meet enroute to the #1 qualifying position, at 5.221 seconds. Making that performance even more relevant, at the season-ending World Finals, Don ran an even quicker low e.t., at 5.186, and again set top speed at 284.99 mph. The team obviously has a handle on the track and one can only wonder what he'll do for an encore.

Another Canadian injected fuel car, from the frozen wasteland of Manitoba, is the "Bull" entry of Gord Gingles. The team usually runs in the midwest and this marks the first time they've come out to the Winternationals, although they did run at the Finals two years ago. With a car that can easily run low 5.30's and 270-mph plus speeds, Gingles should qualify but a late-round appearance is not really in the cards.

British Columbia's Shawn Cowie is also in the mix but he's spent the last two years trying to maintain that consistency that saw them winning national events and contending for the championship back in 2011. His last outing at last year's season-ender saw the Mundie's team crank out a very strong 5.28 at 272 mph in the second round, before losing to the all-conquering Severance in the semis. That's got to be something they can build on coming into the 2016 season.