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The latest update as of July 29, 2021

Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals logo

It's not going to be the largest number of competitors at a Winternationals - in fact, far from it - but there will be nearly full fields in the PRO categories. Leading the way will be Funny Car, with 18 entrants, followed by Pro Stock (16), Pro Bike (15), and trailing the rest, "The Kings of The Sport" aka: Top Fuel, with just 13 competitors. The numbers get even worse when we move down to Top Alcohol Dragster (just EIGHT), and Funny Car (NINE).

Whatever happened to all the west coast alky racers? Admittedly, there are a number of factors contributing to the decline: COVID-19 obviously, and the impediments it's put on travel, especially of the cross-border variety, and the uncertainty affecting the economy and people's and company's willingness to spend money on non-essential activities. We can only hope that 2022 sees a return to something approaching a "normal" (or new normal) way of life.

In Top Alcohol Dragster, with just eight drivers competing, there are only two Top Ten racers in competition at Pomona. Both running supercharged alcohol, it's Shawn Cowie, and arch-rival Joey Severance. With the last minute withdrawal of Mike Austin, there's only three alky cars competing against five injected nitro racers. The favourite to take the crown is obviously three-time defending Winternats champion, Cowie, as his Mundie's Towing team has been absolutely dominant at Pomona over the past six years. During that span they've made it to the final round five times, winning four of them.

Cowie's fortunes haven't been so fortunate at the other Pomona event, the traditional season-ending Auto Club NHRA Finals, as in the five years from 2015-2019 (last year's event was cancelled) he's "only" won twice and made the semi-finals once. However, in the eleven total Pomona races since 2015, he's notched six wins, and a runner-up and has tallied a winning percentage of .861 , with 31 round wins against just five losses. That's quite a record and that's why he's the odds-on favourite to continue that record this weekend. With the wealth of track and atmospheric conditions knowledge that ace tuner Norm Grimes has amassed since coming onboard with Cowie in the mid-2010's, it's going to be a tall task for his competitors to beat him.

Moving on to Top Alcohol Funny Car, we've got a nine-car field, which means four rounds of racing, with a bye run in each round leading up to the final. If NHRA follows their normal elimination schedule for the alcohol cars, it will mean three rounds on Sunday (as opposed to two for the dragsters) in a very compressed time frame of just three hours. In practice, that means less than 90 minutes between rounds, which is a walk in the park for the pro teams, but in a "sportsman" category that requires heavy maintenance between runs, it's going to be a tough Sunday afternoon for the teams.

Eight of the nine drivers entered are from the West Coast (one from Alaska, one from Washington, one from Oregon, one from Nevada, and four from California), while just (Terry Ruckman) resides east of the Rocky Mountains (Grand Junction, CO). Of that group, three are currently in the Top Ten, with defending national champion Doug Gordon, sitting in second place, just ten points behind leader Sean Bellemeur, who is not attending the Winternationals. The #6 (Nick Januik) and #7 (Brian Hough) racers are well back in the standings, and only Januik has a chance to move up the points table.

Of the rest of the field, only former national champion (2017) Shane Westerfield is a serious threat to the category leaders, but he does have a chance to make a big jump up the standings from his current #17 spot, and move into the Top Ten again with a late round finish. A real darkhorse in the form of Mike Doushgounian, tuned by Bob Miner, is capable of making some serious noise and could provide an upset... or two... before the tire smoke settles on Sunday afternoon.