2023 NHRA WINTERNATIONALS - POMONA NOTEBOOK
SUNDAY NOTEBOOK - IT'S THE TEN FROM THE NHRA WINTERNATIONALS IN POMONA
Competition Plus’ Water-Cooler Topics From The Lucas Oil Winternationals
1. NEVER TOO EARLY TO THINK OF TITLE - Top Fuel winner Justin Ashley recognizes that the 2023 Top Fuel champion will be crowned here at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip – but not until November, not at this Winternationals appearance.
However, the class’ first two-time winner of the season said, “It is important to know the championship’s a long way (off), but it's important to start collecting points now, because you want to be in the best possible position once that Countdown starts. Goal No. 1 is to make the Countdown. Goal No. 2 is put yourself in a position to win the championship. And those points add up. The points that we accumulate now count just as much as the points that we accumulate in Indy before the Countdown starts. It's never too early to start thinking about the championship.
“Our focus is going to stay on one race at a time. After this win, it will shift to Las Vegas,” he said, referring to the Four-Wide Nationals in two weeks at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “But I think collecting those points is something that's always in the back of our minds.”
And Ashley isn’t one to peek past his blinders. He keeps a keen eye on the task at hand. And that went for Sunday’s final-round opponent Austin Prock – a driver he faced three times in four final rounds last year, and a young gun who’s about as sharp on the Christmas Tree as he is.
“He’s just another opponent in the other lane,” Ashley said following his ninth overall victory. “Obviously, I have a lot of respect for Austin. I think he does a great job on the starting line. He's a great driver, and I have a lot of respect for all the drivers out here, but I think I'd be doing my team a disservice if I was focused on what's going on in the other lane. So we're just focused on doing the very best that we can focus on our lane, doing everything I can to go A to B as straight and as quickly as possible. So that's really where the focus always is.
“I think I'm just focusing on the present moment and enjoying it,” he said. “I do think that last year, thanks to Philips Connect, we took a big step in the right direction. And this year, I think your focus was to take it to the next level. And I think you've seen that so far. In the first three races, especially these last two wins, and it's just a testament to the hard work that our team puts in. We're on an upward trajectory right now.”
The momentum, Ashley said, “is tremendous. It's nice to leave here with the points lead. It's a long season so we have plenty of time left, but the points that we accumulate now count just as much for the points that we accumulate later before the Countdown so to be able to stack those points on top of each other, including in the Mission Foods Challenge, really is very significant. You have to collect round wins. You're not always going to win the race. You know, these races are hard to win. But you have to do a good job of stacking round wins. I think we've done a good job of that. We have to find that next step to find that consistency. There was a period last year where we didn't win any races, but I think we went to five semifinals in a row. It's about maintaining that consistency, learning from each and every run, and I think that was an important step in our evolution as a team.”
2. FUNNY CAR WINNER MATT HAGAN TOPS CAPPS IN FINAL – On the 50th anniversary of Hall of Famer Don Schumacher’s 1973 Winternationals Funny Car victory, two of his most successful drivers – three-time champions Matt Hagan and Ron Capps – met in the class’ showdown.
In a powerhouse final in which Capps and Hagan have combined for 223 money-round appearances (Capps 142, Hagan 81), Hagan ruled from wire to wire for his 45th victory. He became the category’s first repeat winner as he improved his elimination-round record this season to 9-1 in the Haas Automation Dodge Charger Hellcat.
Racer Jack Beckman always said, “You have no friends out here between the burnout and the turnout.” And Hagan knew that Sunday. He was determined to record a second victory in the young season’s first three events for Tony Stewart Racing. So when he knew he would be facing close friend Ron Capps in the final round, Hagan said, “I’ve got a lot of respect for him. I like the guy a lot, but we’ve got to put him on the trailer.”
And he did.
However, Hagan said, “As much as I’d like to beat on my chest and say we’ve won two races out of the three, we’re still working through some stuff with the combination on this car.
Crew chief “Dickie Venables has been able to put his stamp on this deal with innovation on the chassis and different things,” Hagan said. “And we know we’re going to keep those things in-house. At DSR (Don Schumacher Racing), we had a bunch of teammates, so the knowledge got spread around. So you never really had that advantage. That being said, we still have a lot of things to work through on this car.”
Hagan said, “It’s a great day when you can go from 10th in qualifying and win the race. I woke up and knew we had a little bit of a hill to climb as a team, and it’s just one of those deals where as things progressed and the car goes down the track, you get more confident. Just to watch Dickie and what he does on the racetrack, there’s very few weekends where that guy doesn’t impress me.
“I’m glad to have him in our corner and I’m just super-proud of my guys. It’s pretty amazing to be able to put a car in the winners circle with a new sponsor,” he said. “Funny Car is tough, and it’s going to be a dogfight. And there’s just no room for error, because it’s so tough.”
Points leader Hagan has a 26-point edge on Capps as the Camping World Drag Racing Series heads in two weeks to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the first of two four-wide events. The following race, also in four-wide fashion, will be at zMAX Dragway at Concord, N.C.
3. GLENN MASTERS POMONA RACETRACK – Both Matt Hartford and Dallas Glenn were eager to capture a first In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip victory in the Pro Stock class. In the end, Glenn and his RAD Torque Chevy Camaro came away with bragging rights – by .0033 seconds, or about 12 inches – in his first final-round match-up with Hartford and the Total Seal Camaro.
The two, with KB Titan power under their hoods, had split eight previous meetings, but this time Glenn – who made the final here in his sportsman-racing days in the Stock class – tamed this track he said sometimes has been “brutal” to him.
After topping Chris McGaha, Bo Butner, and teammate Camrie Caruso, Glenn said it reinforced this weekend that “when you go in on the first run Friday, you cannot leave anything on the table” and that he “crossed my fingers as I ran through the gears” in the final.
The victory gave Glenn the points lead for the first time in his fresh career, and it marked the third different Pro Stock winner in three races. With it, Glenn has ensured he’ll have at least one victory in his first three years in the class.
“It was a great day and anytime I’m worn out at the end of the day, I’m happy,” he said.
“I’ve got an absolutely great car, and it’s been running really well. I’m comfortable in it, and I was just able to make a lot of clean runs. It’s really cool to be the points leader right now. I’ve never been able to get it done in Pomona before, and it’s been so frustrating. But I knew the car was going to be really good today, and I was just happy it all came together for us.”
4. #2FAST2TASTY WILL SEE NEW FACES AT JOLIET – Top Fuel’s Justin Ashley and Pro Stock’s Matt Hartford have a chance at the Route 66 Nationals at Joliet, Ill., in May to become the first back-to-back winners of the Mission Foods-sponsored bonus race that takes place during Saturday qualifying. (The program skips the two April four-wide events at Las Vegas and Charlotte.) New to the Top Fuel version of the $10,000-to-win race-within-a-race will be Brittany Force and Antron Brown. They’ll join Ashley and Austin Prock. In the Funny Car class, Terry Haddock and Bob Tasca III will get their first chances at the $10,000 prize and three Countdown-applied points, and Ron Capps and Matt Hagan also will compete. In the Pro Stock division, $7,500 and valuable bonus points are up for grabs among Camrie Caruso, Dallas Glenn, Aaron Stanfield, and this Saturday’s victor Hartford.
Chad Green signaled his arrival as a Funny Car championship contender with his $10,000, three-point victory Saturday, and Ashley used his Top Fuel #2Fast2Tasty victory Saturday to seize the No. 1 qualifying position for eliminations. For Hartford, Saturday’s win was a springboard to the No. 2 starting spot for Sunday’s runoffs and a return visit to the bonus event.
5. J.R. TODD’S NO GOOD, HORRIBLE, ROTTEN, VERY BAD WEEKEND – J.R. Todd’s bid for a first victory since the March 2021 Gatornationals had one bright spot this weekend: He registered a 3.935-second elapsed time in the second qualifying session to earn a berth in the top half of Sunday’s starting line-up. But that’s about where his good luck ran out.
On that Q2 run, his chances and his DHL Toyota Supra chassis and body were collateral damage in John Force’s run-amok pass. Force’s crash started a string of misfortune for the Kalitta Motorsports driver and 2018 Funny Car champion. Force collected him in his own wild ride, crossing the center line after the finish stripe. Force barged into Todd’s lane behind Todd, zoomed up on Todd’s left between Todd and the guard wall, then passed in front of Todd and draped his parachutes over Todd’s car, dragging him toward the right wall. Force hit the wall and tore up the front of his Peak Chevy Camaro.
Todd said it was “just a normal run. I was trucking down through there pretty good, get the ’chutes out before the finish line like normal – like you’re pretty much taught as a young driver. And that time I feel like I paid the price for doing it. At first, I thought maybe he just got into my ’chutes or something, but next thing I know, I see him on my left side and we’re in the left lane. You’re not supposed to be there. After that, just sort of hanging on and steering away from him, steering away from the wall, and trying to get on the brake to get the thing stopped.
“But when the ’chutes are tangled up like that, you’re just along for the ride,” Todd said. “It’s a helpless feeling. You’re not really in control at that point when the other guy is wrapped in your ’chutes or his ’chutes are wrapped around your car. He [Force] was dragging us along for the ride. It sucks. I don’t like tearing up stuff, especially when it’s out of my control.”
Both drivers exited their cars on their own power, and neither was injured.
“It’s really unfortunate, because it was a brand new car for us, beautiful car and worked really well,” Todd said.” There’s nothing wrong with our car that we pulled out for Q3, but just new body and new car ... I hate creating extra work for the guys, especially something silly like that.”
That was perturbing enough. But after Todd’s team hauled out the back-up car for the final qualifying session, Tim Wilkerson in the opposite lane clipped the timing cone, and neither driver received an elapsed time. So Todd was fortunate enough to snag the No. 5 starting spot in the order.
Oh, but Todd had more trouble. With a safe lead against Alex Laughlin in Sunday’s opening round, Todd’s engine detonated, destroying the back-up body, damaging the chassis, and losing the round to Laughlin.
“If you knew a weekend like this was coming, you’d rather stay home,” Todd said Sunday. “More than anything, I just hate all the work that’s been created for all my guys – especially right before an off weekend. With all the work the DHL team’s been doing up to this point, my guys needed that off week badly. Now they have a ton more work to get done before we go to Las Vegas.
“The DHL Toyota Supra was running OK early, and I didn’t see Alex Laughlin next to me. The next thing I knew, after it got down the track quite a ways, it started spinning the tires. I learned in the Gainesville (Fla.) final that when it starts spinning like that, you've got to get out of the throttle as soon as possible. Sure enough, it happened in the first round today, and we saw what can happen. Nowadays, the way we run these things, as soon as it spins the tires, you’ve got to get off the throttle. I was too late doing that.”
Todd said, “Looking back on it, I wish I could go back and lift sooner. If you do that, you’ll lose the round, but we would have come back with a race car and body instead a lot of extra work for these guys.
“We’ll see where we are this week with cars and parts. If I need to go to the shop in Ypsilanti (Mich.) or Brownsburg (Ind.) to deliver parts and pieces, I’ll do whatever the DHL team needs. I just want to do anything I can to contribute on my end to get us ready for Las Vegas,” he said.
6. CINDERELLA MAN – Longtime Funny Car racer Terry Haddock, who last weekend at Phoenix started from the top half of the ladder for the first time in his career, reached his first semifinal Sunday at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip.
“The first thing I’ve got to do is say thanks to God, because this is amazing,” Haddock said. “It’s amazing you can come out here and give all you’ve got for all these years and when you work hard and you don’t give up, you get your chance.”
He claimed a spot in the four-driver Funny Car Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenge that will run next in May at the Joliet, Ill., race. He said the $10,000 jackpot is cool to pursue, “but just going rounds is amazing. Just getting to drive this car is amazing. We don’t have a lot but we keep going.”
Crew chief Johnny West called this weekend “a blessing” and said, “These guys work so hard. You can’t even fathom how much work goes into this when they get out here.”
7. SQUIRRELLY CAR TO BLAME FOR JOHN FORCE’S CRASH? – John Force’s qualifying accident and subsequent center-line-crossing incident Saturday were the buzz of the weekend.
But Force insisted, “I’m not doing anything different. This BlueDEF Chevy Camaro moved around a little bit and made a left, but I thought it would come back on me. But it didn’t come back. For some reason, I’m snake-bit right now.”
In his first Saturday qualifying attempt, Force’s car darted into Todd’s lane, swooped up on Todd’s left between the Kalitta Motorsports driver and the guard wall. Both cars were ruined in the mishap as Force’s parachutes wrapped around Todd’s Toyota.
On his second Saturday pass, Force shut off after being pulled to the left and hitting another pair of cones. That run also was disqualified. So Force was lucky to end up with the No. 16 position for the first time since this race last year, leaving Jeff Diehl and Steven Densham with DNQs.
“It got squirrely up there,” Force said of his car, “but it’s been doing that since the beginning of the season, and we think we know why. Driving right, left, right, left, I can do that. I do that all the time, trying to keep it straight. When it hit the bump up there (toward the top end), though, it blew the tires off, and it made a left turn into the other lane. I thought I just got his header, J.R. Todd, but I’m glad he’s OK. Then it hit the wall hard. I have to re-evaluate it. I watched the video. Maybe I have to pull it back more. I’m OK, but more importantly, J.R. is OK.”
9. GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY – Top Fuel racer Tony Schumacher said he wasn’t aware of it, and it slipped dad Don Schumacher’s mind, as well. But this visit to Pomona marked the 50th anniversary of the elder Schumacher’s 1973 Winternationals victory.
The younger Schumacher said Saturday that his father seldom mentioned it: “Not much. Honestly, not much. And that's a big, big victory for him. Of the five NHRA races that he won, this one had to be a huge one. Indy was huge and Ohio. Each one of those was back in a different world where you ran much, much less races. Each one of those had to be an epic, epic accomplishment. So good for him.”
Don Schumacher said Sunday morning from Florida by phone, “I really try to live the present moment rather than the past.”
But his son said it would be special to bring home a victory for the organization that has seen Joe and Cathi Maynard assume majority ownership.
“Let’s see if we can't go out there 50 years later, do it again. I always love when someone would say, ‘Oh, by the way, if Schumacher wins this ...’ We always seem to win those,” he said.
He didn’t this time, losing to Shawn Langdon by .0147 of a second despite posting his quickest elapsed time of the weekend (3.738 seconds).
Don Schumacher easily recalled details of that 1973 triumph.
“That was an amazing day. I raced (Kenny) Bernstein in the final,” he said. “The track was sketchy, so even though we had two speeds in the Funny Car, I ran high gear all day long. That’s what got me through it, versus what everybody else did. It was a fun day, to say the least.”
The Hall of Fame patriarch fielded a stable of drivers who produced 19 championships and 366 victories.
“It has been a remarkable career,” he said. “I never imagined any of this would ever have transpired.”
He said he’ll attend the four-wide race at Las Vegas in two weeks.
PERCEPTION IS EVERYTHING - Matt Hagan certainly didn’t look like he had the dominant nitro Funny Car heading into race day at the Lucas Oil Winternationals.
However, the Tony Stewart Racing driver found his grove on Sunday in his Dodge Direct Connect Charger SRT Hellcat.
By late Sunday afternoon, Hagan clocked a 3.967-second time at 328.06 mph to defeat reigning world champion Ron Capps’ 4.303-second lap in the finals at the In-N-Out Burger Pomona (Calif.) Dragstrip.
Sunday’s triumph was Hagan’s 45th career NHRA nitro Funny Car win and his second this season as he also was victorious at the season-opening Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., on March 12. This was Hagan’s seventh national event win at Pomona and fourth at the Winternationals. On Sunday, Hagan disposed of Blake Alexander, Alexis DeJoria, Terry Haddock, and Capps. Hagan, a three-time nitro Funny Car world champ with Don Schumacher Racing in 2011, 2014, and 2020 leads the points standings after Pomona. He is 26 points ahead of Capps.
“First of all, it was nice to be able to come out here and debut Haas Automation and very proud to represent Haas, what a name in motorsports period,” Hagan said. “To have Tony (Stewart) here this weekend and TSR and everybody who is behind this stuff. How great is it for Tony to come over to drag racing and bring all these new sponsors and crossover and I really feel like it is going to help our sport. Not just with our team but with other teams.
“What a wonderful day, and it’s kind of tough out there; the right lane has been giving us fits even back to last year. I feel like it kind of cost us the opportunity to be in the championship hunt. We never got down the right lane and it was favored, and we picked the left lane, and we didn’t get down it either. The right lane with that bump the clutch comes into it, and it was a handful all day. Just trying to drag you inside, and you are just fighting it all the way down through there. I feel like I kind of earned my money today. For (crew chief) Dickie Venables and all the guys who wrench on this car, they just always find a way to put a great race car underneath me and I just try and rise to the occasion and go down the racetrack and turn on four win lights.”
A year ago, Hagan finished third in the final points standings behind Capps and Robert Hight. This season, Hagan has a 9-1 elimination round record. “When I woke up (Sunday morning), I was like, we have a little hill to climb,” Hagan said. “As things progress and as the car goes down the racetrack you get more confident and more confident. Just to watch what Dickie does out there on the racetrack, there’s very few weekends that he doesn’t impress me. I’m glad to have him in our corner, and I told him a long time ago I hope I am able to retire my career with him as my crew chief. At the end of the day, I’m just super proud of our guys.”
Capps, Hight, and Hagan are the powers to beat in nitro Funny Car right now, but Hagan knows there are plenty of other contenders.
“There are still other cars besides Capps, Hight, and me that you have to watch out for,” Hagan said. “Funny Car is just tough. Hat’s off to Terry Haddock today; look at that. The guy showed up for every round and put a lot of heavy hitters on the trailer and he’s just racing his race. I was really proud of Terry. Those guys were really excited to go that many rounds this weekend.
“Funny Car is really tough. Today I got up and I was in the final round, and I have to be up for this guy (Capps). Dickie and Guido (Capps’ crew chief) and those guys and (Jimmy) Prock, they run pretty close together. They pretty much get all you can get out there. For me, if I can give us a little bit on the starting line, that is what I feel need to do to rise as a driver to the occasion and make sure we put a couple of hundredths in the bank. If the car can be there as well, it is a hard combination to beat. I don’t think there is ever going to be any rounds against Capps or Hight that will be easy. Funny Car is a dogfight. Every time I crawl into that race car and put my mouthpiece in, I feel like I’m going into battle.”
Hagan qualified a pedestrian No. 10 at 3.962 seconds at 302.96 mph, but he insisted his team wasn’t playing coy.
“As much as I would like to sit here and beat on our chest and say we have won two races out of the three, we are still working through some stuff. What Dickie has been able to do with TSR, at DSR we had a bunch of teammates and the knowledge got spread around so you never really had that advantage. Dickie put a stamp on this deal with innovation on the chassis and some different things we are doing, and we are going to keep that in-house. We still have a lot of stuff to work through. This car is heavier, so I had to lose a little bit more weight. Even though we have won two out of three races, we are still working through a combination. I think there is a lot to learned. I’m excited to get to racetrack that is smooth and doesn’t have tricky lanes.
“It used to be like driving the car 300 mph, ‘Oh man.’ Now what gets my adrenaline going is knowing who is next to me in the lane and what type of caliber of a driver is beside me and trying to leave on them and keeping it in the groove. That’s what keeps my heart racing.”
ENCORE PERFORMANCE - Now, that’s an encore.
A week after winning the Arizona Nationals, Justin Ashley qualified No. 1 at the Lucas Oil Winternationals, won the Mission 2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge on Saturday and won $10,000, and then capped things off Sunday by taking the title at the Winternationals.
Ashley clocked a 3.713-second elapsed time at 327.43 mph to defeat Austin Prock’s 3.762-second lap at 327.43 mph in the finals in Pomona, Calif.
Ashley left Pomona with his seventh career Top Fuel national event win, his third No. 1 qualifier, and his first 2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge victory, a new program that debuted in Phoenix.
“I’m not sure that it does. To be honest with you. I think it was just really an incredible job top to bottom,” said Ashley about his amazing weekend. “We were saying on our way up here that to win any race is special, and then to be able to win two races in a row, with the Mission Foods Challenge in between, is just amazing. What makes it even greater is how much we really struggled in Gainesville. To be able to bounce back like that really shows you how resilient our team is, and it started on Friday and Saturday during qualifying.
“No matter who you race, it’s going to be tough, and you have to have four almost perfect rounds of racing to give yourself a chance to win. Qualifying number one did help us out because we had that second round by, so that all adds up to a really successful weekend.”
On Sunday, Ashley defeated Krista Baldwin, had a bye in round two, then ousted Antron Brown and Prock.
Ashley wasn’t fazed when he met up against Prock, another rising star like Ashley.
“No, he’s just another opponent in the other lane,” Ashley said. “Obviously, I have a lot of respect for Austin. I think he does a great job on the starting line. He’s a great driver, and I have a lot of respect for all the drivers out here, but I think I’d be doing my team a disservice if I was focused on what’s going on in the other lane. So, we’re just focused on doing the very best that we can focus on our lane, doing everything I can to go A to B as straight and as quickly as possible. So that’s really where the focus always is.
“I think I’m just focusing on the present moment and enjoying it. I do think that last year thanks to Philips Connect, we took a big step in the right direction. And this year, I think your focus was to take it to the next level. And I think you’ve seen that so far. In the first three races, especially these last two wins and it’s just a testament to the hard work that our team puts in. We’re on an upward trajectory right now.” Ashley was quick to acknowledge his team’s momentum as he is in first place in the points standings.
“Well, it’s tremendous, you know, really it gives us momentum, and obviously, it’s nice to leave here with the points lead,” Ashley said. “It’s a long season, so we have plenty of time left, but the points that we accumulate now count just as much for the points that we accumulate later before the Countdown, so to be able to stack those points on top of each other, including in the Mission Foods Challenge, really is very significant.
“You have to collect round wins. You’re not always going to win the race. You know, these races are hard to win, but you have to do a good job of stacking round wins. I think we’ve done a good job of that. We have to find that next step to find that consistency. There was a period last year where we didn’t win any races, but I think we went to five semifinals in a row. It’s about maintaining that consistency, learning from each and every run, and I think that was an important step in our evolution as a team.”
As if things couldn’t get any better for the weekend, Ashley had all his sponsors in attendance.
“I feel very fortunate and blessed to have the kind of relationship that we have with Phillips Connect,” Ashley said. “You know, when we started this last year, for the most part, they were new to drag racing so to be able to bring them into this community to be able to work with them as one team, not Philips Connect and Justin Ashley Racing but as one Phillips Connect team really something special. You see it with the results on the racetrack, but you also see it with the results off the racetrack, and the culture fit is just perfect. So having everyone from Phillips Industries, Phillips Connect here in their hometown and collect the Wally and give it to Rob Phillips, Amber White, and Jim Epler to take back with them to the office is really something special.”
Ashley has had some special weekends in his young racing career – but none like this weekend in Pomona.
“I think it probably was; I love Texas Motorplex because I love racing at the Stampede of Speed, but you know. Obviously, this track has a lot of history, but to be able to win and then make it back-to-back wins,” Ashley said. “And then when you add in the 2Fast2Tasty Challenge, this really is a big deal. It does make it a more significant and more special weekend. Every win is special in its own right. Every win has its own significance. But I think this was probably maybe the best weekend of racing, the most dominant weekend of racing we’ve had as a team.”
Despite his tremendous rush of success in 2023, he’s keeping things in perspective. A year ago, Ashley finished fourth in the points standings.
“It is important to know the championships a long way, but it’s important to start collecting points now because you want to be in the best possible position once that Countdown starts,” Ashley said. “Goal number one is to make the Countdown. Goal number two is put yourself in a position to win the championship, and those points add up. The points that we accumulate now count just as much as the points that we accumulate in Indy before the Countdown starts. It’s never too early to start thinking about the championship. Our focus is going to stay on one race at a time. After this win, it will shift to Las Vegas, but I think collecting those points is something that’s always in the back of our mind.”
CALIFORNIA DREAMIN' - They don't call him "Double-O" Dallas for nothing.
NHRA Pro Stock driver and past A Rookie of the Year driver Dallas Glenn may not have been the favorite coming into eliminations on Sunday but was able to find a way to win Pomona, racing to his first victory of the season at the 63rd running of the Lucas Oil Winternationals from the newly rebranded In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip, defeating Matt Hartford in the final to seal the deal.
"I've really wanted to win here," Glenn admitted. "I've raced a lot of sportsman here and done pretty good but have never been able to seal the deal. So to do it in Pomona, you know we come here twice a year."
Glenn had a consistent car all day on Sunday at Pomona, kicking off eliminations by punching out Chris McGaha with a strong 6.535 at over 210 miles per hour to McGaha's 6.588 at 210.
He backed that up by taking out last week's runner-up in Phoenix, Bo Butner, as Butner struggled, and Glenn laid down a solid 6.547 at 210.
But the big match-up came in the semi-finals when Glenn squared off against his KB Titan teammate and last week's winner and your No. 1 qualifier on the weekend in Pomona, Camrie Caruso.
Glenn's nickname "Double-O Dallas" rang true in the semis as he cut down the tree with a lightning-quick (.002) reaction time and outran Caruso by just one-thousandths of a second on the racetrack to take the win. Glenn stopped the clocks at 6.573 seconds at 209 to Caruso's 6.574 seconds at 209 to advance into his first final of the season.
"Come up against Camrie, and I know she absolutely really wants to beat me," Glenn said. "She was double-o against me last time, so I knew she was going to be good, and I know she's fast. She's No. 1 qualifier. So I did everything I could to absolutely murder the tree, and when it dropped green, it was really happy because it felt really good, and then it took a hard left on me, and I didn't know if I was going to get it back until third gear. It came back real nice and kind of ran through the gears, and I took a glance over and couldn't see her, so I was pretty thankful about that."
In the money round, Glenn faced off Matt Harford, who once again had another strong racecar, and came into the final with some momentum, having won the Mission Foods 2Fast 2Tasty Challenge just twenty-four hours earlier.
Hartford came into the final with the performance advantage, having run a 6.532 at over 211 miler hour against Deric Kramer in the opening round, which held as low e.t. of race day. Hartford followed that up with a strong 6.545 at over 210 to take down the reining Pro Stock Champ, Erica Enders. And finally, Hartford would be .02 better than everybody in the semi-finals, recording a great 6.558 at 210 in the heat of the day against Aaron Stanfield to advance into the final and giving him a chance to pull off the "double-double" for the weekend.
However, despite the performance advantage for Hartford in the final, Glenn found a little performance of his own. Hartford got the advantage on the starting line against Glenn (.016) to a (.025), but Glenn would outperform him on the racetrack, running a stout 6.546 at 209 to Hartford's 6.558 at 210 to take the win.
"I got pretty lucky that Rob Downing and Dave Connolly and Nathan VanWassenhove gave me a really, really good car for the final round," Glenn said. "It went nice and straight, had a great 60 foot, hit all my shifts good, and it was spinning a little bit through the lights, but we were good enough to hold on to the win. I don't think Matt made quite the run that he wanted. And he was really good on the Tree, so I was a little nervous when I left on that one. I didn't feel like I got it at all."
For Glenn, it was his first win at Pomona in his career, his first win of the season, and fifth of his young Pro Stock career. To top it all off and put the icing on the cake, he also took over the Pro Stock points lead for the first time in his career.
"Obviously, it's early in the season, but points in the beginning of the season mean just as much as points near the end of the season," Glenn said. "It feels really good; I will probably take a screenshot of that when the points come out so that I can see it and save it. So hopefully, it ends the same at the end of the year." - Darin Williams Jr.
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - THE NHRA HAS A WILD DAY AT THE IN-N-OUT
FORCE LASSOES TODD IN SCARY QUALIFYING ACCIDENT – A scary-looking crash during Saturday’s first qualifying session at the Lucas Oil Winternationals at California’s In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip left NHRA Funny Car drivers John Force and J.R. Todd uninjured.
Force, who initiated the contact when his Peak Chevy Camaro crossed the center line past the finish stripe, was subdued and repentant, while DHL Toyota Supra driver Todd was unintentionally ambushed and angry.
Force’s car jumped around in the right lane and past the finish stripe crossed into Todd’s lane, behind him. He swung around on Todd’s left side, between Todd’s car and the guard wall, then crossed in front of Todd. Their parachutes became entangled, and Force’s car lurched to the right. Todd was dragged along as Force’s car smashed into the right-side wall. Todd somehow didn’t make contact with anything but Force’s car.
“It had been moving around,” Force said of his Camaro. “Then, boy, all of a sudden, it struck the tires and made a hard left on me and hit the wall. That caused a ricochet, and it came across (the track). I saw J.R.’s’ chutes, and I thought I only got the header. I didn’t realize how hard I shoved him into the wall. I’m sorry about that.
“I’m OK. He’s OK. That most important,” Force said. “We’re both just trying to stay in the show.”
Force said, “I hate that. There’s a lot of things going. We’re trying to keep these cars right, keep them straight. I don’t think I overdrove it ... but I’ll have to look at the video. I’m smarter than that. I’m just sorry to hit his car.”
Todd said, “I’m more mad than anything,” because his Supra was a brand-new car. “The thing’s awesome to drive. It really picked up our performance. Now we’ve got to unload the back-up car and an old body and try to win this thing for DHL and Toyota and just everybody that supports us. I can’t thank them enough. Now we need to shake this (reserve) car down, and I’m sure it will be just fine. It’s the car we finished the season with last year, and it ran really well. Hopefully we can go rip off a good run in Q3 and get ready for Sunday.”
Todd shared his perspective moments after climbing from his car: “Came up on the finish line, get the’ chutes out like I normally do, come up on the speed cone,’ chutes hit, and the next thing I know, I feel someone on my left side, which is kind of odd, being in the left lane. There’s not much room between the car and the wall. And next thing I know, I’m getting hit and trying to get spun around. Just really unfortunate.”
After he had gotten a few minutes to absorb everything that happened, he said, “Honestly, I still don’t know” what transpired. “I haven’t seen the video,” Todd said, “but just a normal run. I was trucking down through there pretty good, get the’ chutes out before the finish line like normal – like you’re pretty much taught as a young driver. And that time I feel like I paid the price for doing it. At first, I thought maybe he just got into my’ chutes or something, but next thing I know I see him on my left side and we’re in the left lane. You’re not supposed to be there. After that, just sort of hanging on and steering away from him, steering away from the wall, and trying to get on the brake to get the thing stopped.
“But when the’ chutes are tangled up like that, you’re just along for the ride,” he said. “It’s a helpless feeling. You’re not really in control at that point when the other guy is wrapped in your’ chutes or his’ chutes are wrapped around your car. I haven’t seen any video, so I can’t really tell you exactly what happened. I just know he was dragging us along for the ride. It sucks. I don’t like tearing up stuff, especially when it’s out of my control.”
Both drivers exited their cars on their own power, and both teams were forced to haul out their back-up cars.
“It’s really unfortunate, because it was a brand-new car for us, beautiful car and worked really well. There’s nothing wrong with our car that we pulled out for Q3,” Todd said, “but just new body and new car. I hate creating extra work for the guys, especially something silly like that.”
Todd guessed that perhaps a rear-view mirror might make a difference to avoid such a recurrence: “If I had a rear-view mirror, I would have swerved to have gotten away from him. I don’t know. I can’t critique what he did or didn’t do, because I haven’t seen the run. We made a nice, solid 3.93 run and got the’ chutes out. And the next thing I’m getting run over.”
Force’s run remained valid because he didn’t cross the center line until after the 1,000-foot course.
In the third overall and final qualifying session, Force’s run was disqualified because he crossed the center line again. And Todd once again encountered terrible luck: he received no elapsed time because Tim Wilkerson, running in the opposite lane, hit the timing cones and wiped out both of their clockings.
Force ended up with the No. 16 slot in the starting lineup and will top qualifier Cruz Pedregon in Sunday’s first round. Todd took the No. 5 berth and will start his race day against No. 12 Alex Laughlin.
#2FUN2DOMINANT - Saturday was quite the encore for Justin Ashley – and the weekend isn’t over yet.
A week after winning the Arizona Nationals, Ashley qualified No. 1 for the Lucas Oil Winternationals in Saturday’s final session with a 3.707-second elapsed time at 330.15 mph in Pomona, Calif.
This was Ashley’s third No. 1 qualifier of his career. And, if that wasn’t enough with his run, Ashley also won the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge, a new program that debuted in Phoenix by stopping Leah Pruett.
Leah Pruett clocked a 3.732-second lap at 326.48 mph in the finals of the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge to finish runner-up.
“I think this probably the best Saturday I have ever had at the racetrack,” Ashley said. “Amazingly, they are able to come out here – Mission Foods – and put on this 2Fast2Tasty Challenge. It is kind of twofold, right, it is great for the fans, but it is also great for the teams, which is really why we are out here and what we are trying to accomplish. Overall, for our Phillips Connect team, it really was a great day and a positive step in the right direction.
“So, tonight we can enjoy this one, but tomorrow (Sunday), it goes in the rear-view mirror. We have a long road ahead, and I know we are going to have to have four perfect rounds of racing to give ourselves a chance to win. We will shift our focus in a little bit here to tomorrow.”
Ashley acknowledged his 3.707-second run caught him off-guard.
“I had no idea,” Ashley said. “I was super happy because this counts for qualifying, and I think we picked up some bonus points. Obviously, qualifying No. 1, fast of the session, and then winning this Mission Challenge it all adds up. So, no, I really wasn’t sure if it was out there before our run. I kind of just let (crew chiefs) Mike Green and Tommy DeLago do the great job that they always do. It was out there, and Arizona really paid dividends for us. Not only because we won the race, but we got four extra rounds of racing on Sunday. New tune-up, new combination. They’ve done a great job learning and adapting, and I thought you saw the results here in this last session.” - Tracy Renck
GREEN GETS HIS FIRST - It may not be a Sunday Wally, but it was definitely a step in the right direction as nitro Funny Car driver Chad Green captured his first trophy in the class by winning the Mission Food #2Fast2Tasty Challenge.
“It’s a really big moment for us,” Green said. “It’s our first win in Funny Cars as a team. This season is going a little better than I expected to start the season off, but we’re not surprised. I mean, we’ve got a good car, we’ve got a good group of guys, and we’re focused this year.
Despite not having the fastest car in Nitro Funny Car, Green has had one of the most consistent ones this season, advancing to the semifinals at both 2023 races.
Green struggled in the first round of the Mission Foods challenge, only running a 4.529 at 190, but it was enough to get around last weekend’s Phoenix winner, Robert Hight.
He stepped up in the finals, running a solid 3.974 at 316 to take down a tire-smoking Alexis DeJoria, who made her second consecutive Mission Foods Challenge final.
“It definitely proves we’re for real and we do feel we can do some damage,” Green said. “We definitely don’t have the car running as fast as we think we can get it running, but it’s been really consistent.” - Darin Williams Jr.
PROCESS THAT! - One week ago, Pro Stock driver Matt Hartford seemed well on his way to capturing his first win at his home track in Phoenix -- until Camrie Caruso beat him with a holeshot.
However, Hartford brought the performance with him from Phoenix to Pomona, capturing Saturday’s Mission Food #2Fast2Tasty Challenge.
“I thought that we should have won Phoenix, and we didn’t,” Hartford said. “If the driver would have done his job, we would have won Phoenix, I think. So to come here and to have a chance at some redemption, some revenge, whatever you want to call it, thanks to Mission for putting this deal on because it is fun to race on Saturday. Never thought I’d have to have two first rounds in a weekend. But it’s really fun that we get to do this.”
Hartford kicked off Saturday getting his revenge on Caurso from their semifinal bout in Phoenix, leaving on her by nine-thousandths of a second and running 6.542, 211 to beat her 6.550, 210 to advance.
Hartford was on his game even more in the final of the Challenge, cutting an impressive .019 light against KB Titan teammate Kyle Koretsky and laying down a strong 6.546, 210 to Koretsky’s 6.558, 210 to take the win. - Darin Williams Jr.
MO-MENTUM - Momentum is a many splendored thing. Or is that love?
Regardless, Pro Stock racer Camrie Caruso is loving her momentum of winning an NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series event and then following up with a second career No. 1 qualifying effort at the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals at the In-N-Out Pomona Dragstrip.
On Friday afternoon, Caruso laid down a pass of 6.518 seconds at 211.79 mph, and the run stood the test of time throughout Saturday’s qualifying. She will face Steve Graham in the first round.
“We’re really excited to be number one heading into Sunday,” said Caruso. “We wanted to win the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge, but hopefully, we’ll have another shot at it in Vegas. We’ll just focus on winning the race tomorrow. I think we’ll be just fine. My guys are really smart. They know what they’re doing. We were number one coming in today, and we didn’t really need to kill it on the performance side. It was way different than it was yesterday. We will be just fine tomorrow.”
The last time Caruso qualified No. 1, it worked out well for her on Sunday. It was just her fifth start in Pro Stock, and she raced to the final round of the final NHRA Spring Nationals at Houston Raceway Park, finishing runner-up to Erica Enders in the sport’s first-ever all-female Pro Stock final.
“I was really calm on Sunday in Phoenix,” said Caruso. “I’m just going to continue to try and stay calm and not let anything rattle me. We’re just going to focus on the win lights.”
During the first qualifying session today, Caruso was upset in the opening round of the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge racing veteran Matt Hartford. Last weekend Caruso got the win light, but today Hartford got to the finish line stripe first, then went on to win the Challenge and its $5,000 top prize. Caruso posted the quickest losing time in her losing effort and earned an important championship bonus point.
“We wanted to get that Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge win, but we will definitely take that championship point,” said Caruso. “Those points will add up, and we just want to give this Powerbuilt Tools Chevrolet Camaro race car every advantage we can. I am excited for tomorrow and going after my second Pro Stock win.” - Bobby Bennett
MILADINOVICH GETTING READY TO RETURN – Funny Car owner-driver Alex Miladinovich returned Saturday to the scene of the grime, to the site of his February 2022 wall-banging, season-ending wreck during qualifying for the previous Winternationals ... but just as a spectator. However, the Orange, Calif., racer with the tiny budget and huge personality is taking a new approach to competing in the Camping World Drag Racing Series that he hopes will get him back to the racetrack for a few races this year – including some Midwest races.
“We’re making everything, building new cars. And we’ve been making multiples and patterns of everything, and I’m just trying to play their game our way. I can’t go bumper to bumper with them financially, but what I can do is our team, we got making parts and that’s where we can be different. We make everything ourselves. That cuts costs down,” Miladinovich said.
“It’s all done in-house,” he said. And that’s literal. Miladinovich and his mechanics work out of his garage behind the house – “in the driveway, with the dog, and got to move all the bikes out. That’s how we can afford to race.
“It’s just homegrown,” he said. “We’re coming along. It just takes longer. It takes all you got. And like (Top Fuel privateer) Steve Chrisman said, if you still own your house, you didn’t try hard enough.”
Miladinovich, the perpetually happy racer, said, “It’s not a complaint. I’m very fortunate to have what I have available to me.”
Fans should see this new car relatively soon. Miladinovich said he hopes to be “testing around Las Vegas (the April four-wide rac.
“We’re making fuel tanks. We’re plumbing and wiring the car now and just trying to get parts, all of our stuff, back assembled in the trailer,” he said. “Hopefully going to Chicago and maybe have something brewing for (Norwalk) in the summertime. That’s the goal. And just try to get out of California and start hitting the races. We may leave the rig out there, because after Ohio is Indy. So, if we can pull that off ...”
He said he knows he needs to raise more funding. With a laugh he said, “Just got to be a silver-tongued devil. I can’t get diesel with my good looks.”
WILKERSON, JOHNSON LEAD FORUM – Tim Wilkerson already wears three hats every race weekend, as owner-tuner-driver of his SCAG Mustang Funny Car. He earned another this Friday night at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum – that of discussion leader at a fan forum that “Fast Jack” Beckman emceed.
“Jack called me three or four weeks ago, and he wanted to have an open forum on just talking about how we race and what we do, and I said, ‘Oh, I might be able to do that with you.’ He goes, ‘Alan Johnson is going to be there.’ I’m like, ‘Well, you’re going to get both sides of the gamut on that. You’re going to get the old hillbilly version, and you’re going to get the really smart-guy version.”
Wilkerson said he was the hillbilly, Johnson the genius.
“It was fun. Alan was good, and we got to bounce questions off of each other, based on what we know and how we do it, and it was kind of fun,” he said. “Just listening to Alan is fun, because he’s won so many championships with so many different people, and he was an innovator in our sport, and we did things together that nobody even knows about, so that was kind of fun.” (He said he couldn’t divulge what those “things” might be: ‘No, I can’t tell you about that. I’m sworn to secrecy,’ he said with a wink.)
He said that he, like everyone else in his position, has received advice and help from his peers throughout the pits -- and that includes from Alan Johnson.
“Oh, yeah, sure. Yeah, everybody did out here,” Wilkerson said. “That’s one thing: Alan, Ron Swearingen, (Austin) Coil, (Rahn) Tobler, Brian Corradi, you name it. Every crew chief out here – Jimmy Prock, Chris Cunningham – we’re all smarter because of each other, I believe, because it’s just too complex to learn how to do it all yourself, you know?”
A crew chief’s checklist is far longer than anyone might imagine, he said.
“There’s a lot of crap,” Wilkerson said. “My kid (Daniel Wilkseron, tuner for #2 Fast2Tasty Funny Car Challenge Saturday winner Chad Green) told me that about the middle of last year, when he was helping Chad all year long, he comes up and he goes, ‘You think, really, anybody knows how hard these cars are?’ I said, ‘People that start to try to do it now do because they look like they get doing what they’re doing, but people have been doing it a long time, have learned in the evolution of these cars how to do the right things.’
“And it’s really funny ... (Crew chief) Jon Schaffer and I were just talking about this; how we have two different versions of two different environments and two different ideas of how we run a Funny Car when he ran Tasca’s car. We’re light years apart in how we do things, and our cars run within a hundredth of a second of each other,” he said. “So it all works, is what I’m saying.
“Nobody’s the messiah of this, not even Alan. He does a great job, but Alan had things that guys like me didn’t. He had unlimited money and an opportunity to run at every single race. He worked with DSR (Don Schumacher Racing), so they had blowers, dynos, and clutch dynos. Anyway, it was just interesting to see his evolution of how he has done things. Well, he made us all smarter because of his ability to do stuff.”
Wilkerson said, “We’re all doing good. We can’t complain. But it was a fun thing at the museum. We got off track, but it was a real fun thing. I always enjoy listening to Alan and the crowd, because he’s such an icon. He’s done so much on it. It’s really fun to listen to him. He really did a good job. He did a great job. Well, like I said, I’m on the other side of that. I’m the common-sense, hillbilly version, not the technical Alan version.”
NO. 5 WITH A BULLET - Bo Butner logged his best qualifying appearance to date in 2023 in his Johnson's Horsepowered Garage Chevrolet Camaro at this weekend's 63rd annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip. Qualified in the No. 5 position, the 2017 world champion is seeking his first win of the season, and his challenge will begin with a first-round meeting with young Mason McGaha.
"I'm excited for tomorrow," said Butner, who hasn't met McGaha in an elimination round since the New England Nationals in mid-2022. "We made two good passes in qualifying with our JHG Pro Stocker and had a little bit of trouble on that last qualifying run, but it still gave us information that can be useful come Sunday. I like our chances."
Butner has twice won the Winternationals in Pro Stock, and he did so in back-to-back years. He was the 2018 and 2019 winner, and both trophies came with a defeat of three-time world champion Jason Line. Butner's first win at Pomona came in 1999 in Super Stock, when he defeated one of NHRA's most winning Sportsman competitors, Jeff Taylor, for the trophy. He also beat "The Terminator" Peter Biondo there in 2013 for the Stock Eliminator victory, and he claimed the 2017 NHRA Finals win in Pro Stock over Tanner Gray to seal the deal on his championship.
"Pomona has been good to us," said Butner. "We've really enjoyed racing there in the past. It feels like we haven't won a race in a long time in Pro Stock, and after getting to the final last weekend in Phoenix, we know it can and will happen – it's just a matter of when. We qualified well here; it's always so tough in this class now, but if we can continue with what's been working, we have a shot."
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - CAMPBELL, TORRENCE EXPLAIN THEIR RESPECTIVE PHOENIX INCIDENTS; ANGELLE PLANS RETURN ON BIKE THIS FALL; CARUSO HAS BIG MO GOING FOR HER PRO STOCK TEAM; RUPERT RETURNS IN FUNNY CAR
HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED - Sometimes a fantastic idea goes a little sideways in the shakedown period. And that’s what happened in the Jim Campbell-Jeff Diehl Funny Car alliance for last week’s NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series race at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, Ariz.
First an engine stud broke, preventing Campbell from making the lone Friday qualifying run. Then on Saturday, in the only pass Campbell did attempt, he launched and shut off the engine at about 200 feet. That pass was disqualified because the NHRA Tech Department ruled the car was too light. Campbell missed the chance to run in the third overall and final session Saturday, thanks to a mishap in the staging lanes.
That’s because the race car banged into the tow vehicle, cracking the body. Because the team was late getting out of the pit and heading to the starting line for Q3, Campbell was in the cockpit. Normally, a crew member rides in the car as it is being towed to the staging lanes. The team lined up in the incorrect lane, then got in the assigned lane. But for an unknown reason, the tow-vehicle driver moved forward again, then abruptly jammed on his brakes. Startled, Campbell reached for the brake inside the race car but didn’t grab it in time, and the car hit the tow vehicle.
He was inserted into the field as the No. 16 qualifier, but he was unable even to stage the car. That gave top qualifier Bob Tasca III a solo pass into the quarterfinals.
After all that, Diehl is competing in his own car once again this weekend at the Lucas Oil Winternationals at Southern California’s In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip – and even said Friday, “We’re going to run 3.99 tomorrow.” Campbell said he plans to rent the TTS/TYW Engineering-sponsored flopper later in the season, when he’s more comfortable in the car after it’s been customized to fit him.
“It’s a brand new team, so it’s Jeff Diehl’s team, which was nice enough to let me lease their car to run the Arizona Nationals,” Campbell said. “Everything was redone. It was made for Jeff to drive. The car is fitted for him. We tried to make some adjustments because obviously Jeff’s much taller than I am, and he’s about 65 pounds heavier. So we made the adjustments we needed to make. But again, it’s an all-new program. Their car is brand new. They had a lot of work done on it, so we’re super excited.”
The next time he leases Diehl’s car, Campbell said, “I’ll be more comfortable in the car” once some changes have been made. “But we did a great job of trying to get me seated in the car within the time limits that we had. And so it’s just one of those unfortunate incidents.
“I apologize to everybody and anybody. We’re all human, and we all make mistakes,” he said.
“Jeff and Leeza were wonderful in giving me the opportunity to drive their car, and I appreciate it so I could keep out here,” he said, announcing that he has “started my own team. So there is Jim Campbell Racing, LLC.
Campbell is renting his ride “until I get the funding to get my own team. So I’ll be running with a few teams this year, not just Jeff Diehl, but a few teams that I’m going to be running with.”
He said that in Arizona, “obviously, we had some unfortunate incidents with a head stud being broken, and it was just an unfortunate incident as we were pulling into the staging lanes. You have a tow driver that I’ve never ridden with, and I’m in a car that I haven’t spent much time in and stuff like that. We got pulled up. We were in a little bit of a rush, but that’s OK. It happens.
“We know that in drag racing, we got up to just the back of the ready box, and they had stopped. And this was really – just being honest – while I was wiping my face down and stuff like that. I figured at that point they would probably unhook the car and push me into it. And the driver jerked a little bit, which jerked the car. I didn’t catch it in time, and it ran into the back of the tow vehicle.
“It’s my fault, because I’m the operator. When I’m in that Funny Car, I’m supposed to be aware of everything. And it was just one of those things that just got caught off guard. It’s my fault on the driving side,” Campbell said. “We’re a team effort, and Jeff and I, we talked about it, and we got everything fixed and everything rectified, and we’ll do a better job next time. But like I said, it’s just one of those unfortunate things. I’ve been towed a thousand times, and they’ve towed him a thousand times. It was just a miscommunication, just a mishap that happened, and I thank them for everything that they’ve done for me. And I love Jeff and Leeza, and I love Diehl racing. I love the whole team. And it was just an unfortunate incident.
“We had a broken engine stud, so that was unfortunate. We couldn’t get that out, so we missed that run,” Campbell said. “So we were already behind the eight-ball a little bit. Then we went out and made a squirt at it, and it went left, so I clicked it off. That took the green light, and unfortunately, we got thrown out for being underweight. Again, Jeff weighs 65, 70 pounds more than I do.
“So it was just one of those things that when everybody’s brand new together, stuff happens. It really does. There’s no other way to put it,” he said. “But it’s my job to control that Funny Car at all times.
“It was just a little bit of bad luck and a little bit of stuff. But again, I just want everybody out there to know that obviously I know how to drive a Funny Car. I’ve been towed a thousand times. They’re obviously a good Funny Car team. They know what happens, and this was just an unfortunate incident. And I can tell you one thing that I can guarantee, it will never, ever, ever happen again.”
WHY WAS TORRENCE ANIMATED? – The mystery has been solved about Steve Torrence’s animated conversation with the Safety Safari crew on race day at Phoenix last weekend. Fans at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park and the FOX and nhra.tv audiences saw the four-time Top Fuel champion engaged in an extended talk following his semifinal exit.
What concerned Torrence at that moment wasn’t the fact the engine on his Capco Contractors dragster blew for the second time of the weekend. It wasn’t the fact that he lost the match-up against eventual winner Justin Ashley. It was the fact that the Safety Safari’s side-by-sides and emergency vehicles have rolled onto the racetrack before his race car has stopped, and that it wasn’t the first time this season that has happened.
At Gainesville, Fla., in the season opener, the side-by-sides broke with protocol and prematurely came out on the track before the cars were stopped, unaware that cars were coming around, through the turnout. Torrence came around the turnout just as the side-by-sides did, somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 mph, causing a dangerous situation. That happened a couple of times during the Gatornationals weekend. So Torrence made a call to NHRA officials about that following that race, and they said that they would address it so that it wouldn’t occur at Phoenix.
But when it happened again, Torrence understandably was upset. Someone could have been killed or seriously injured. Or at the least, Torrence’s team would have had to bring out a back-up car and repair the primary dragster.
Torrence had no intention of overdramatizing the incidents or even discussing them publicly. But because he said he thought the sanctioning body had addressed the situation from Gainesville, he was troubled that it happened again in Arizona.
By the time Torrence got into his tow vehicle for a ride back to his pit at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, everyone appeared to be on pleasant terms.
CRUZ IN CONTROL - The first two races of the 2023 NHRA season didn’t go as planned at all for Cruz Pedregon.
He qualified eighth and 13th at the Gatornationals and Arizona Nationals, respectively, and lost in the first round at both races.
Pedregon’s fortunes changed at the Lucas Oil Winternationals Friday as he grabbed the provisional No. 1 qualifying spot with a 3.865-second elapsed time at 302.28 mph.
“Truth be known, there was a little left on the table even in that run,” said Pedregon, who pilots the Snap-On Tools Dodge Charger Hellcat SRT. “I clicked it a little early. I have been trying hard to keep the car in the groove. It has been wanting to dart and wander all over the place in Gainesville and (Phoenix) Arizona, so I was really focused on keeping it in the groove. I lost a little bit of sight of where I was on the track. Right as I closed the throttle, I saw the placards on the wall. But, it was a great run and the thing put me back in the seat.
“The numbers were better than any of the numbers we had run at the Finals (in Pomona) in November.”
If Pedregron holds the No. 1 spot through Saturday’s two qualifying sessions it will be the 63rd of his career. Pedregon’s last No. 1 qualifying spot was in Reading, Pa., in 2021.
“The team has been hanging in there,” Pedregon said. “It wasn’t the start we wanted in Gainesville or Phoenix, but you know, I think we are notoriously slow starters, but we have a really great car for this weekend, and I think we will be good the rest of the year. I think we have the bugs worked out.”
A year ago, at the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona, Pedregon qualified second and won the race – the 39th of his championship career. Pedregon finished sixth in the final points standings.
“I don’t know,” Pedregon said when asked about his Pomona success. “The track is tight and cool, and I just think our car, when we unloaded it last November it just liked what we did to it. Believe me, I wanted to go down the track just as good in Gainesville and Phoenix, but it just wasn’t there. I think we learned something from those tracks. I don’t think had we brought the car here right from Indy we probably would have struggled a little. Some things we learned at those first two races we applied here.”
Pedregon has won four national events in Pomona in 1995 (Winternationals), 2008, 2012, and 2022 all were the NHRA Finals. He won NHRA nitro Funny Car world championships in 1992 and 2008.
“I wanted to get back here (to Pomona),” Pedregon said. “I was joking with the guys that we sat around and admired our handy work a little too much over the winter. It was fun because we were the last car to win (in 2022), so I think we were feeling a little bit too good as least; I can speak for myself. We were a little off. We had a few guys who we had to put into the mix, insert them in different spots. I always reference football; not everybody is going to come out swinging and be at their best. It takes time to learn the new positions. We all took turns, including myself getting the car out of the groove a couple of times. It was just a team effort.
“Everybody on the team, starting with J.C. (John Collins, crew chief) and Ryan (Elliott, co-crew chief), we all have a little gray on our heads for a reason. I think we shook it off, and it showed (Friday) with the performance of our Snap-On car.” - Tracy Renck
I'M HOME! - In the ten years Brittany Force has been racing Top Fuel, she has proved two things without a doubt – she can win world championships as she did in 2017 and 2022, and she can qualify No. 1 at national events.
After Friday’s lone qualifying session at the Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., she is on the verge of her 44th No. 1 qualifying position, thanks to clocking a 3.712-second time at 328.86 mph.
“Honestly, it didn’t feel like a great run,” said Force, who pilots the Flav-R-Pac/Monster Energy Chevrolet dragster for John Force Racing. “When I got out on the top end, they told me it was a 71, and we were currently low. That was exciting, but it surprised me a little. It kind of rattled. Half-track to the 1,000-foot, it vibrated the whole way down and I just thought any second this thing is going to pop behind me. It is going to get in trouble. It just felt like it was coming undone. Then right before 1,000-foot, we shut it off. I thought it was (crew chief David) Grubnic who shut it off.
“So, we are looking into it, trying to figure out what the issue was, but the car did shut off. We did have a little more in it. We could have got a little bit further and improved the run by a little bit, but still that 3.71 that put us low right now. That’s a good solid run coming into qualifying.
Force was already No. 1 qualifier at the season-opening Gatornationals and she was No. 1 qualifier ten times last season
“My thoughts on it are he spent all offseason making some big, big changes,” Force said of Grubnic. “The whole team is aware of it and my first thought was we had such a great package; why are we going to change it? It didn’t make any sense. But again, I have David Grubnic in our corner. He’s the best crew chief. He’s the best tuner. I don’t doubt him. Whatever he thinks we need to do to move forward and progress and get better, I stand right by him. I think it is going to be shaky in the first few races and we knew it would be, but I think in the long run, it is going to be good for us.”
Force has qualified No. 1 at the Winternationals three years running 2020-22, and her lone win in Pomona came in her 2017 championship season in the final race of the year.
Force lost in the second round of both the Gators and Arizona Nationals. This weekend, she is chasing her 17th career Top Fuel national event victory.
“We want to win early on,” Force said. “We would love to start that right here in Pomona, my home track. We have had success here before. We have won here before. We locked up a championship last season here, but we are ready for that first win of the season. I hope it comes sooner than later, but again, we are aware that it might take a couple of races, but we should have our footing figured out in the next couple.”
Force also did offer her thoughts about NHRA not starting the season at the Winternationals – a staple of the sport for decades.
“It does change it up a little bit because we open here in Pomona and we close here,” she said. “Since I was a kid, I have been coming to both the opening event and closing event in Pomona. So, it was definitely different being out at the Gatornationals for the opening race. My team did do many days of testing. I felt like we were already working our way through the season when we started, so it didn’t feel like the first opening race for us.
“But again, change is good. I don’t love change. I like sticking to the same routine, but in the long run it will be good to mix things up and change it around and see if it works for NHRA drag racing.” - Tracy Renck
LOOK FOR ANGELLE BACK ON BIKE THIS FALL – Angelle Sampey’s seat on the Vance & Hines Suzuki has gone to Gatornationals winner Gaige Herrera this year. But she is Mission Foods’ ambassador for its new #2Fast 2Tasty Challenge, bestowing medals on the winners of the Saturday qualifying-bonus-race winners. But once the regular season is over, don’t be surprised if the three-time champion and all-time victories-by-women leader returns to the racetrack on a Pro Stock Motorcycle.
“I will be at all 12 Mission #2Fast 2Tasty NHRA Challenges. I’m going to be the spokesperson and the ambassador of that race,” Sampey said Friday. “So I am obligated to work the races and not compete on a motorcycle. So the 12 races that the challenge is at, I cannot race, but they have decided to let me compete in the Countdown races. So the six Countdown races, which we don’t have the challenge at, I’m free to do what I want.
“Of course, I’m already trying to put the feelers out there, put the word out that I would like to compete,” she said. “I think it would be a totally different thing for me. It would be racing on my own terms. Trying to win a championship would be off of the plate. So I think the pressure would be off of me. There’s always going to be pressure to want to win, because that’s just who I am. It’s human nature for me to be competitive.”
She said it’ll be a lot better “if it’s just Countdown races, to go out there and have some fun, continue riding, try to redeem myself – for myself. I’m not trying to do anything for anybody else. I don’t feel like I have anything to prove to anyone. But I’m not happy with the way my year went last year. And I would like another chance to get out there and perform, even if it’s not on a motorcycle that can qualify No. 1 or win the race. If I can just be on a bike that’s competitive and go out there and perform well, that would make me happy and (let me) have some fun.
“So that’s the goal. So I’m going to do the best job I can for Mission throughout the season. I’m having a lot of fun with them. This Challenge race is super-exciting. They’re doing a great job with it. It’s no joke. I mean, it’s a serious deal for money and points, and Mission’s really doing a great job at making it something that racers can be proud of winning and even just proud of to be competing in on Saturday. So I’m excited to be a part of that. I’m very honored that they saw enough in me to have me as the spokesperson for this race.,” Sampey said.
“But I’m really hoping to be able to continue my racing career, at least in (the playoffs) for the next couple of years,” she said.
CAMRIE CARUSO NO. 1 AFTER DAY ONE IN POMONA – Returning to the track where she made her Pro Stock debut a little over a year ago, Camrie Caruso, coming off capturing her first career win last weekend in Phoenix, continued the momentum during Day One of qualifying in Pomona.
The 2022 NHRA Rookie of the Year rocketed her Powerbuilt Tools KB Titan Camaro to the top spot with a scorching 6.518-second pass at more than 211 mph, giving her the provisional pole at the 63rd annual Lucas Oil Winternationals from the newly rebranded In-N-Out Pomona Dragstrip.
“That was just awesome,” Caruso said. “I knew that we were going to run good because Pomona has always been good to us in the past. But to go No. 1 Q1 right after Phoenix was super-special, and I knew I’d see a good run.”
Matt Hartford had a strong car at the last race in Phoenix before bowing out to Caruso in the semis. He continued his good performance at Pomona, laying down a stellar 6.524 at 211 to slide him into the No. 2 spot after the first session of qualifying.
Dallas Glenn, Caruso’s KB Titan teammate, rounds out the drivers to earn bonus points for the top three quickest runs of the session, running an impressive 6.528 at 211 to put him at No. 3.
But while Caruso has the honors of holding the top spot and will try to hold onto it heading into the final two qualifying sessions Saturday, she will focus her attention on the Mission Foods #2Fast 2Tasty Challenge and a rematch with Hartford – with championship bonus points, money and a trophy on the line.
“I’m super-excited to be a part of that,” she said. “Unfortunately, we weren’t a part of it in Phoenix, but now we are here, and to be able to have a special incentive in qualifying, it’s just really cool. And I’m thankful that they’re putting up the incentive to do so. And hopefully, we’ll win.
“I think that it kind of prepares us better for Sunday in a way, because we’re already going to be in race mode because we really want to win. I told the guys, ‘I don’t care what you do. You need to win tomorrow. I want that trophy.’ So I think it’ll help us on race day even more,” Caruso said. – Darin Williams
THAT’LL WORK - You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and for Matt Hartford, the first day on the job for a new sponsor was quite impressive. Hartford laid down the second quickest Pro Stock time, a 6.524, 211.13, during Friday’s lone session.
GETTRX, powered by Global Electronic Technology, Inc., a leading FinTech institution, and Hartford announced a partnership for the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals and beyond.
“We are excited to be partnering with Matt and the entire Total Seal team,” Steve Bryson, founder and CEO of GETTRX, powered by Global Electronic Technology, Inc., said. “Matt and his company, Total Seal Piston Rings, have been loyal clients of GETTRX for several years. He represents his sponsors and partners with class, and we feel like his team is poised for a championship run in 2023.”
GETTRX, powered by Global Electronic Technology, Inc., is entering its seventh season supporting NHRA racers.
“We’ve always believed in keeping a smalltown feel at GETTRX,” said Steve Bryson. “Our employees take pride in knowing who our customers are, what their professional goals are, and offering top-of-the-line service and technology to help meet and exceed those goals. We revolutionized eCommerce processing, and our retail solutions rival anyone.”
RUPERT GEARED UP FOR HIS FIRST 2023 RACE – Jason Rupert, a second-generation racer for 30 years who broke into the nitro Funny Car ranks in the summer of 2021, and semi-retired championship crew chief Rahn Tobler hope to make beautiful drag-racing music together this weekend in Rupert’s first of five 2023 appearances.
Helping the Rupert team get in rhythm will be professional musician C.C. Thomas Jr., the bassist and bandleader for Diana Ross. Thomas has joined the effort with his Music For Young Minds Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charity organization that has been established to make free music education accessible for as many children as possible who might have the desire to study music but don’t have the means. Thomas is on hand here at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip.
With support from longtime partners TMS Titanium, Lucas Oil, CP-Carrillo, ICE Recovery + Wellness, and MAC Speed & Custom – as well as new local sponsors J.S. Easterday Construction, Shell Roofing, S and J Interiors, Realtor David A. Silva, and Mayor’s Manor – the Anaheim Hills resident also will compete at both Las Vegas national events, the Sonoma Nationals, and the Finals here this November.
“I think we have a lot to be excited about going into a new season,” Rupert said. “We’ve had some ups and downs, learning how to race at this level. We have a good group of volunteer guys on the crew who are really passionate. We all want to go out there and run hard. It takes time, and it takes runs. We have good parts and some talented people who have been willing to guide us. It’s up to us to not make mistakes and keep progressing.”
Rupert ended his 2022 season with a career-best 4.030-second elapsed time at 313.44 mph at the NHRA Finals at this racetrack, and he was a finalist for rookie-of-the-year honors.
He said his biggest performance goal for the Winternationals is to record his first three-second E.T. in NHRA competition.
“All I’ve ever really wanted to do is race Funny Cars. I’d sit in all the cars that my dad (prominent SoCal driver Frank Rupert) was putting together at Woody Gilmour’s shop. I’d see the drivers putting on their masks with the breathers in the lanes at Orange County International Raceway and thought that was the coolest thing in the world,” he said.
Rupert, a custom fabricator by trade and crew chief for Jerry Espeseth’s Atlas Testing Nostalgia Funny Car, started his driving career in 1993, in Charlie Marquez’s Top Alcohol Dragster. Then he bought the late Steve Plueger’s operation and upgraded it with Ford Mustang bodies, engine components from Don Schumacher Racing, and Bob Tasca III’s five-disc clutch program. Jonnie Lindberg got the first ride in that car at the 2021 Las Vegas Four-Wide Nationals, the day before Rupert completed his licensing procedures. Rupert took over driving duties at the 2021 Sonoma event.
#2FAST2TASTY CHALLENGE TO GO AGAIN SATURDAY - Competitive racing will return to the Saturday qualifying schedule this weekend for the second of 12 occasions, as semifinalists from last weekend’s Arizona Nationals will experience some déjà vu in the Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenge.
They’ll run a rematch in the so-called “Q2” session, with the winners squaring off for Countdown-applied bonus points and a winner’s purse of $10,000 in the Top Fuel and Funny Car classes and $7,500 in Pro Stock. The final round will take place in the final qualifying session.
In Top Fuel, Phoenix #2Fast2Tasty champ Doug Kalitta and runner-up Mike Salinas have given way to first-time participants Justin Ashley and Shawn Langdon, the respective Arizona Nationals winner and runner-up. Leah Pruett and Steve Torrence return. Pruett picked up a point last time as first-round finisher with the quickest elapsed time.
“I am fired up for the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge, because it just gets you into race mode earlier in the weekend with a chance to collect points,” Ashley, who finished fourth in the Top Fuel standings the past two seasons, said. “Every point counts in the Countdown. So if you can start collecting them now, it could pay off huge benefits at the end of the season. These rematches will also be fun for the fans.”
In the Funny Car category, Alexis DeJoria was able to reward her Del Worsham/Nicky Boninfante-led crew with $10,000 for beating J.R. Todd in the bonus-race final – and gain three banked Countdown points. She’ll start her quest for a repeat this weekend against Ron Capps. Robert Hight and Chad Green will meet in the other first-round go. It will be Capps’ first time to race in the new program. Green was in the foursome at Phoenix.
The Pro Stock Fab Four this week – Phoenix race winner Camrie Caruso, Phoenix runner-up Bo Butner, and semifinalists Matt Hartford and Kyle Koretsky – are new to the #2Fast2Tasty Challenge.
Each Challenge winner will earn three bonus points that will be added to their point total to begin the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. The runner-up will get two points, and the quickest losing semifinalist will receive one point.
FORCE KING AT POMONA – John Force’s 16 victories make him the most successful drag racer here at his home track. He has won the Winternationals seven times (1991, 1993, 1997, 2002, 2010, 2012, 2014), eight times in the In-N-Out Finals, and once in a special event, the NHRA’s 50th Anniversary Nationals, in July 2001.
He also has four runner-up finishes (most recently in 2020), and he has been No. 1 qualifier 10 times, most recently in 2014. The only event in which he has more No. 1 starts is the U.S. Nationals (12).
“I love coming home to race at Pomona. All the history, the success, hopefully, it plays into our hand this weekend, because I could sure use it,” Force said. “This BlueDEF team, we’re running well, just need a little bit of luck and maybe a little bit of extra effort on my part. Danny Hood, Tim Fabrisi, and Mac Savage helping out now, they’ve got this car figured out. We’ll keep doing what we’re doing, qualifying well, making good solid passes, and then we’ll see what happens on race day.”
On the Top Fuel side of competition, SCAG Power Equipment dragster driver Tony Schumacher is tied with Don Garlits and Doug Kalitta for the most Top Fuel victories here (six). Only two have come at the Winternationals (2004, 2008). He won four straight times (2004-07) at the Finals. He also has led the field a class-leading four times and been runner-up twice (2013, 2018).
“I’ve won both Pomona events multiple times and have had a lot of success at that track, but that was then and this is now,” Schumacher said.
Now the goal is to pick up where he left off with Mike Neff as his crew chief. The Army sponsorship ended after they had one season working together, and the crew disbanded. Neff rejoined Schumacher’s newly branded JCM team.
“I think that me and Mike both know we had so much more to do, and everything’s different – the parts, pieces. You hate to take a thing that was working so well and park it, but I will guarantee you that Mike’s up there (in the hauler) with (co-crew chief Phil) Shuler and they are trying to get that car back to what we had, because the one thing we knew about it was we were running quicker and better than everybody.”
He said he has an “amazing” feeling that the prosperous times are about to roll again.
“I feel freaking amazing,” Schumacher said. “Even though it’s new guys, because it’s Phil Shuler and Mike, those are the guys I have. These guys are as good as any team I’ve worked with. Are we going out and running quick right now? We’re going to run quick, too. We got 20 runs on the car. Brand new car. This car goes so straight, carries the wheels perfectly.
Motor makes power. We haven’t dinged a piston on this thing. I’m excited.”
He reminded that he had said while he was idle that he wasn’t interested in just any sponsor to keep his Top Fuel career intact. He wanted a company he could interact with to help it grow.
“I told everybody, I said, ‘I don’t want to just hop in a car. I want to hop in a car with a company that wants to grow and wants to be part of building this.’ And if SCAG has not proven they want to be part of this, man, you ain’t paying attention. They are all over this. Loving it. I’m happy.”