1 – STARTING TIME FOR ELIMINATIONS MOVED AHEAD – Because of an iffy weather forecast, NHRA officials announced a schedule change for Sunday eliminations at the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip. Rather than 11 a.m. (Pacific Time), the starting time will be 10 a.m.

As per tradition, the opening round order will be Top Fuel, then Funny Car, followed by Pro Stock.

Fans can purchase tickets to the race through www.NHRA.com/tickets. Children aged 12 and under are admitted free in general-admission areas with the purchase of an adult ticket. For more information about NHRA, please visit www.NHRA.com.


2 - TONY STEWART HAS LANE CHOICE IN DRAG RACING - Tony Stewart said during a break in this weekend’s Lucas Oil Winternationals at Southern California’s In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip that it’s too early to be an expert on all the nuances of his Top Fuel dragster. And he claims he isn’t partial to one kind of race car, despite his love for dirt cars.

But he is certain that he never will become a Funny Car driver. And he’s adamant that his spin in an 11,000-horsepower, nitro-gulping Top Fuel has a limited run, at least for the immediate future. He stepped in as a substitute this season for wife Leah Pruett, who announced in December she would step from the cockpit to focus on starting a family.

“Listen,” Stewart said, “I was just hoping I was still going to have a job after Gainesville,” where he qualified ninth and bowed out in the first round of eliminations at the Florida season-opener two weeks ago.

“I think if you asked Leah, she's got a different idea than what I have, but literally on my radar right now, I'm just driving this car until she's ready to come back. As soon as she's ready to come back, I'm going to get out of her race car. I don't care if it has my name on it. I don't care if the trailer has my name on it. That's her race car. That's her race team over there,” he said.

“Get another one for yourself,” someone suggested.

“I'll start a GoFundMe account,” Stewart joked. “It just takes money.”

He said it’s “maybe too early” to compare the Top Fuel dragster to the Top Alcohol Dragster in which he started, but identified the thrust and the speed as two definite factors.

“Obviously, it leaves [the starting line] harder. It doesn't leave that much harder than the fuel car, but it just continuously pulls. It’s just a way different feeling when you hit the gas,” Stewart said. “At least to this point, through where I'm at right now, the driving part's pretty similar. But you just know that if you have to start moving the pedal around that it can get expensive and ugly really fast if it doesn't work.”

The dragster, he said, “steers like an IndyCar, basically. The way the steering ratios are and everything and as far as how much you move the wheel for small corrections, that part's very similar.”

His Tony Stewart Racing teammate is Matt Hagan, the four-time and reigning Funny Car champion. He made a pass in Hagan’s car at Indianapolis Raceway Park last year and promised it would be his last — not that he ever wanted a first crack at it.

“I can tell you from going to that car [the Top Fuel dragster] last year and running Matt's car at IRP last year, a Funny Car is like driving a winged sprint car. But it’s like sliding the wing all the way back to the trunk. When I drove that the first run, it washed out and pointed me out through the wall, and I just didn't steer it enough. But I steered it like I would a dragster.”

After his Funny Car experience, he said he has decided he’s “probably better suited” for the Top Fuel car.

A year ago for Christmas, he and Pruett gave Stewart’s father a day at Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School at Gainesville, Fla. He got a tutorial from Hawley and simply made laps all day. So he decided, “If I'm going to be there all day and got to watch, I might as well drive something. I'll see if I can drive Frank's car. And if I can't do it, I can't do it, and there won't be anybody there and it won't be that embarrassing.’ So I made four or five runs in it there. It's like, ‘I know I might be able to do this,’ and I tried. I only committed to doing one day and I served my time. I'm done.”

He hasn’t always had complete confidence in his commitment to drive the dragster, either.

Musing that “I tend to make bad decisions,” Stewart said, “Trust me, there were a lot of nights and a lot of mornings after I had shoulder surgery and I'm recuperating in a recliner at the ranch and I'd wake up in the morning going, ‘What did I sign myself up for?’”  However, he quickly clarified, “I don't regret it.”

That makes him braver than any of his NASCAR or dirt-track buddies. Not one of them he said, has an interest in trying out drag racing.

“None of 'em. None of 'em,” he said. “And they all think I've lost my mind. That's the funniest part. It's like they all think I'm insane now. So I'm like, ‘You guys knew that before I left sprint-car racing and stock-car racing.’”

One huge difference Stewart said he has noticed between NASCAR and NHRA competition is the cadence of the adrenaline rush, the flow of race day.

“It's different. It's way different,” he said. “I think the main reason for that is a sprint-car race at Williams Grove, for example, is going to be a 25- or 30-lap main. If you can pull a corner, you got multiple laps to make it up. And here, anything goes wrong – if I do something wrong, if the car does something wrong – I mean, you're one and done. So you don't have the opportunity to go, ‘OK, we'll scrap this and the next lap we’ll fix it.’ So I think that's where the adrenalin side comes and peaks a little higher, just because the stakes are higher.

“You get in the car at Martinsville or Bristol and your heart rate doesn't even get up hardly. You're going to be in there for three and a half hours. You're going to have pit stops. You're going to have all kinds of stuff go on, and the whole complexion of the race is constantly going to evolve ... where here, it's in a four-second window that whatever's going to happen is going to happen and it's either going to go right or it doesn't go right,” he said.

“When you're in the Cup car and you start to race, the adrenalin's there and it's up there for three-and-a-half straight hours, where when you're here, it's up for the run and when you come back, then you lose that adrenaline. And then it comes back up when you run the next time. Well, if you do that, if you make it to the finals on Sunday and you've gone through that cycle, you physically are exhausted and mentally exhausted because of the peaks and valleys,” he said. “Truly, I feel like that's one of the biggest aspects of this that people don't realize, how adrenalin affects your body. They know what it does when it comes up, but they don't realize the backside of the cycle and your mood cycle.

“I wouldn't say I'm more exhausted, but it's a different curve. If you run all four rounds on Sunday and it goes down all four rounds, you're going to drive the car literally less than 16 seconds. You get out of a car where you've run 500 miles and you feel exactly the same. It's like, ‘How can you feel that tired? And what is it, less than three miles that you're driving in these cars?'” he said. “It’s the adrenaline side of it and how it builds up and then it comes down when you come back to the pit and it builds up, comes back down. It doesn't do that in the Cup car. You kind of get up there and I don't think you get quite as high, but you get up there and you just kind of level off and maintain for the whole day.”

3 – MATCH MADE IN PRO STOCK HEAVEN – The way Jeg Coughlin Jr. put it, he “renewed my Pro Stock vows” toward the end of last season. And his union with Richard Freeman’s Elite Motorsports has been a great match.

Figuring by the closing weeks of 2023 that he wouldn’t walk down the aisle with any team again, he ditched all of his Nomex thermals, threw them all away. Then his most persistent suitor, Freeman, called and said, “Hey, what do you think about driving Erica's [Enders’] new car at Vegas and Pomona? We want to run it in competition. You can potentially help us win this championship, as well. You're one of the guys we trust behind the wheel that can make some noise.”

He had turned Freeman down before, in 2022. “I had gracefully declined and just, I'm like, ‘Yeah, I'm not ready. It just doesn't feel right.’” But Coughlin was open to a rehearsal, those two races.  

He considered Freeman’s proposal and accepted. He said, “We were fortunate to get some great support from Randy [Gloede] and the folks at SCAG Power Equipment to run those two events. And I came out to Vegas. I made some runs in Tulsa, kind of renewed my Pro Stock vows. I hadn't been in a car in over three years. I loved that. It was fun. I enjoyed it.”

Despite five Pro Stock championships to his credit, Coughlin said he was “a little nervous” when the Las Vegas event rolled around. But everything went well right away, then, he said, “I was like, ‘Hey man, let's go.’ I felt fantastic that I felt like I was on top of the car again. I felt in control of where I was going to go. And we had [to race] one of the toughest guys in the country who led the points all year, Dallas Glenn in Round One, and were able to take him out. He had trouble, but we made a good, solid, competitive run. And he would've probably had a hard time beating us. But so that was huge for Erica and the prospect of winning the championship – all on the same weekend being introduced to Randy and SCAG, the folks at SCAG, which has been unbelievable.

“By the end of the weekend there were discussions of, ‘Hey, would you like to do this full time?’ I'm like, ‘You got to be kidding me.’ It's just what I thought. But my family was behind me, [wife] Samantha and  [nine-year-old daughter] Carly and my brothers. We went through Pomona, and we had further discussions about it. And here we are,” a satisfied Coughlin said.

“I've had a magnificently branded cat's-eye gold car that is very identifiable, which I really enjoy. I've been in a very unique car my whole life, bright yellow. And now I'm in cat's-eye gold car, which has its own identity,” he said.

Touring SCAG’s Wisconsin facilities, too, he said, “was quite a treat.” He said he enjoyed “the way Randy and their whole team interact and produce and take care of their employees, build their equipment, and take care of their associates and service their customers. I left Wisconsin energized to get back into our own business [JEGS Mail Order]. I have a renewed passion for taking care of the associates, taking care of the vendors, taking care of our customers, which we did for our whole life. We didn't know how well we did it until we've seen others not do it so well or go through a facility like SCAG and see how well they do it.

“So here we are. We're ready to take it on the ’24 season,” Coughlin said. “We've had one race in Gainesville already, which was good: qualified in the top half, was able to get through Round 1 and then had a kind of an odd red-light second round by a couple thousands of a second. And that was a little bumming.”

But he’s back again. And he plans to live happily ever after.

“I have had some gap years in there. I had either family or work things going on that kind of predicated stepping away for a year and regrouping, if you will. I've had these kind of gap years, but I've come back with a new outlook or a new chapter of some sort,” Coughlin said.

“I've been really working hard on the mental side of the game again and doing some simulation work, and I'm looking to get out and make some noise. Let's not talk about it — we got to do it,” Coughlin said.

He has plenty of Elite Motorsports teammates standing in his way, and knows that” “Yeah, I got a hell of a team that I’m very fortunate to work with. I've talked with a lot of these kids as they were growing up and getting into racing, and racing with Erica the last several years has been a lot of fun. Now racing with [nephew] Troy [Coughlin] Jr. Racing with Aaron Stanfield. I just met Jerry Don Tucker at the end of last year. Really enjoy him. And of course, the Cuadra family. They're second to none. So it kind of reminds me of my brothers and my family. So this is a great group for me,” he said.

“You got to beat 'em on the racetrack, though, too. That's not an easy task. It's not going to be easy. And with seven, eight, and nine teams competing out of our umbrella here, it's going to be frequent,” he said. With KB Titan Racing ready to come out swinging and SCAG’s Dan Wilkerson, among others, ready to break up the Elite lovefest, Coughlin will have his hands full, but he’s optimistic as he ushers in the season.

“For 24, I see a lot of great opportunity for myself. I feel competitive. I feel really blessed to be able to do this with the people I'm doing it with, representing such a company as I am in SCAG and Outlaw Beer and JHG, etc. We've got a really good family under our awnings here, and it's going to be a fun year,” he said. “If I don't get you, one of the rest of the team will in one way or another. And that's fun.”

So save the date for Coughlin’s return to the winners circle.

4- THEN THERE WAS ONE - Funny Car driver Paul Lee will admit he’s seen this movie before. It’s the one where his favorite Funny Car team goes into the last session unqualified and he’s facing a sink-or-swim moment. 

Lee went into Saturday’s only session with the McLeod Funny Car, now tuned by former Top Alcohol superstar Jonnie Lindberg and overseen by retired nitro tuning royalty John Medlen, as the only car capable of getting in the field. 

Lee not only got in the field but did so by running a 3.99-second elapsed time at 327 miles per hour. His fortunes catapulted him all the way to third, and in the same run, he also bumped out Alexis DeJoria. 

“We got all of that one,” Lee said. “We’ve been there before. We’ve been not qualified at Pomona headed into the last run. I don’t what it is about this track and me. I’m local, not that far away. 

“Jonnie and the guys did a great job; he made the calls. John [Medlen] told me that if we had to pedal it, we needed to run better than a 5.47. Thank God I didn’t have to pedal. [It was a] little squirrelly. 

The top runners in Friday’s qualifying just happened to be two nitro runners who have competed in the series sparingly. Still, in the NHRA Winternationals’ opening day, they didn’t miss a beat. It was a lot of fun. Thank the fans for staying with us today.” — Bobby Bennett

5 – HOT RODDIN’ AND HOT WHITE CASTLES – Some things keep Troy Coughlin Jr. awake at nights.

“I've got a little daughter [Aubrey]. And it keeps you up at night, thinking about your family. You're wanting to provide, be a good dad and a good husband, and gosh, you're always thinking about making good runs, but that's exciting. That's a good thing to keep you up at night,” the JEGS/White Castle Camaro driver for Elite Motorsports said during a rain delay Saturday.

“My drive is making good laps. I really enjoy that. The journey and the process is in making nice laps, and you think about it at night. You think about it in the morning. You think about it in the day,” he said.

Yes, he daydreams, too, he said.

“You think about it in spurts – not all day, but you think about it in spurts throughout the day. You're always watching in-car camera runs in your mind or on a screen.”

So does he daydream more about drag racing or White Castle hamburgers?

“They coincide in ways,” he said with a delicious smile.

He still works for JEGS, even though Greenbriar Equity has purchased a majority of the longtime family-owned high-performance aftermarket automotive and Jeep truck-industry company. And he said that occasionally “we do White Castle Wednesday. It's not every Wednesday, but usually one to two Wednesdays of the month. I'll go pick up some White Castles from our local White Castle, and whoever wants to come join. At our lunch hour, we just sit there. We eat some White Castles. Sometimes I'll get a practice tree out, or one of the guys has a big practice tree. He will bring it in, and we'll just sit there and hit the reaction timer. We’re always bench racing. JEGS has just been a hot-rodding and drag-racing company, so we're always bench racing. That's something that's never going to go away, no matter what.”

As for White Castle, headquartered since 1936 in the Coughlins’ back yard of Columbus, Ohio, it has a Craver Hall of Fame. “Well, White Castle, you crave a White Castle, right? It's kind of an addiction type of thing,” he said. “And did you know they patented the spatula? They made the first spatula from a screwdriver.”

Scott “Woody” Woodruff, director of branding and motorsports for Elite, said, “Maybe somebody here might be getting inducted into the White Castle Hall of Fame here.”

Coughlin Jr. said, “I’m not so sure. I think we need to win a championship first. It should be my dad,” the Pro Mod champion and former Pro Stock racer. “He's an absolute White Castle hero. They love him. He supported that company his entire life.”

The sponsorship came about through the family’s relationship with White Castle executives and their loyalty to the brand. Coughlin Jr. said, “My jncle Mike was neighbors with Dave Rife, who is a big, integral part of the manufacturing process, is actually White Castle family, and if you watch the ‘Undercover Boss’ show, he's actually the Undercover Boss for White Castle. He came to the track at Norwalk and brought his nephew, Zack Plannick. We hit it off really well, and I thought, ‘You know, heck, White Castle would look really good advertising on one of these awesome drag-racing machines.’”

So the conversations began, and Coughlin Jr. has sandwiched himself between the iconic brand’s history and its promising future in the marketplace.

A lot of promising drag racers, too, are challenging Coughlin Jr., including a handful from his own Elite Motorsports team. But he’s more focused on what he has to do at each race, with each run.

“I just think you just take it one lap at a time. You get up there and you make a good lap. Make a good lap, put your best foot forward. That's what the practice tree's for. It's what your simulator's for. You do it. You're not asking anything different of what you've done a million times in a simulator: Let the clutch out and try and be better, bang the gears on time, and try and keep the thing somewhat straight. Try and get there first. That's all you can really do. Just try not to overcomplicate it. Get there.”

It's as simple as a little, square hamburger in a box.

6 – CAMPBELL TO COMPETE IN AT LEAST HALF THE SCHEDULE – Jim Campbell, who missed the Funny Car field Friday because the reverser on his Mark Herzhauser Chevy Monte Carlo broke as he was preparing to do his burnout, made the field Saturday in the No. 11 spot. He’ll meet John Force in Sunday’s eliminations.

Campbell signed on with the team, which already had budgeted for six races, then he brought funding for another five. So he’s locked in for 11 of the 21 events so far.

“This is a Monte Carlo. It's Chevy Monte Carlo. It’s an ’08 body. So when it goes out there in sashays, the aerodynamics are so much different than they were 16 years ago,” Campbell said. “This thing drives really good. Obviously, I got enough seat time to know when to get out of it, but this thing drives like a charm. This was the premier body in 2008. Well, we're in 2024. So aerodynamics a little different and the cars are more powerful. But Mark Herzhauser and all these guys, they're out here. They love it.”

7 – HOT-STREAKING PAWUK’S DODGE HONORING DON SCHUMACHER – Mark Pawuk is on a roll in the Flexjet Factory Stock Showdown class this season. He won the Gatornationals earlier this month and claimed this weekend’s No. 1 starting position for the Winternationals. With a 7.856-second elapsed time at 178.87 mph. The run came Friday night, as the class didn’t get a chance to make another qualifying session because of the extended rain delay.

And he has an even more significant motivation to perform well again during Sunday eliminations — his Empaco Dodge Drag Pak that is honoring longtime friend and NHRA Hall of Famer Don Schumacher.

“I have a lot of pride in this Don Schumacher memorial car, so I want to put on a good show tomorrow,” Pawuk said. “I want to thank all my sponsors, especially Empaco, Ohio CAT, and CAT Reynolds storage. I also have folks like Mr. Heater, Heat Star, and Summit back on my car with Red Line Oil, Dodge, and all my associates like VP Fuel, Mickey Thompson and the group at Diamond Pistons. It takes a lot to run these cars, and I want to thank Flexjet for all they do for the class. Getting to run at the Winternationals is special, and I am glad we wound up No. 1.”

He'll face No. 10 qualifier Tony Scott Jr. in the first round Sunday.

8 – FORCE HAPPY TO BE HOME – John Force, driver of the PEAK Antifreeze nd Coolant Chevy Camaro, is in his element this weekend.
He’s home in Southern California, where he said, “Pomona is personal to me. My love for Pomona goes back to the ’60s, when I was driving a truck. I went out and looked through the fence to watch the starting line and watching the people racing. Then, in 1974-75, I started running the local tracks, but Pomona was the big ballfield. That was our Dodger Stadium. That's where we wanted to be. And now here I am. So coming home to it, there’s a lot of memories. I won a lot of races and won championships. I'm looking for another win and I'm going to try to get it done here. Every race counts, but I'm excited to be back home and be racing with family.”

As for his 2024 outlook, the 16-time champion said, “We’re in the championship run for the title, and I want No. 17. I may not yell and scream it, and I've won so many, but I want to keep winning. I want to I want to win with [crew chief and son-in-law] Daniel Hood and with my team.”

He said the newly named In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip is “just the place to be. We're coming here now, we'll kick off the second race of the season and we'll come back at the end of the year. And hopefully, if not me, one of us will run for the title: Brittany (Force in Top Fuel) or (Austin) Prock (in Finny Car). That's what we do.”

9 – CAPPS APPLAUDS FANS – Ron Capps, owner-driver of the NAPA Auto Care Toyota Supra Funny Car, applauded the hearty fans at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip after qualifying second in the 16-car field.

“Boy, another crazy, crazy day!” Capps said. “Anytime we have weather, there’s a lot of standing around, a lot of anticipation. We have the most loyal fans. I’m sure any driver tells you that in any series, but it’s unbelievable how long our fans stayed around to see what we got at Pomona Dragstrip – a historic dragstrip, an epic 64th annual race.

“To get one more shot at qualifying like we did, when the sun was going down, there's nothing like driving this GR Supra down Pomona Dragway on a Saturday night like that and running a 3.893 to the No. 1 spot. We did get bumped on speed. That was probably me shutting the car off a little early down there,” the Carlsbad, Calif., resident and native San Luis Obispo, said. “But we know we have a great race car, and I’m excited about tomorrow. This is a home track for me. A lot of friends and family are here. But we sure want to see if we can double up with my [NASCAR] Toyota teammates there in COTA (Circuit of the Americas) and celebrate with Toyota Sunday night.”

10 – TIMING GLITCH HURTS STEWART – Tony Stewart thought he had qualified third in the 16-car Top Fuel field Saturday with a 3.737-second elapsed time at 328.30 mph. However, what would have been a No. 3 start for him ended up being a bottom-half berth, at No. 13. A reported timing malfunction caused his Saturday run to be disqualified. He had to use his Friday E.T. of 4.839 seconds at 148.95 mph. He’ll meet No. 4 starter Steve Torrence in the opening round.




1 – HOT DOG! HE’S BACK! – A shipping-container mechanic for the Port of Los Angeles who literally builds and maintains his Hot 4 Teacher Funny Car in the garage at his Orange, Calif., home, Alex Miladinovich became an instant fan favorite in February 2020. His gushy and teary top-end interview after qualifying for the 16-car Winternationals field was epic. Two years later, in February 2022, he captured drag-racing fans’ hearts after a violent qualifying crash at this race that he casually referred to as “the whammo.” The underdog talked about another dog — “The mustard fell off the hotdog!” he said following his accident that started and ended his season and put his driving career on hold for two more years.

The hot dog – rather, his Toyota Camry hot rod – is slathered up again, and Miladinovich is relishing his chance to get back on track again two years later. With his do-it-the-old-school approach, the same gusto he applies to his admittedly tone-deaf karaoke performances, and even a crewhand known as “Big Dummy,” Miladinovich is back at the Lucas Oil Winternationals with fresh sponsors TransActionLaw.com and Grant Air Conditioning & Heating.   

“We can’t run at the level it takes to be competitive without the gracious support of long-time sponsors Ver Steeg Trucking, RSF RedShirtFriday.com and L&N Linens. Added support from Bill Brinckloe at TransActionLaw and Darin Grant of Grant Air Conditioning this weekend puts us in a great position to get this hot rod on the qualifying ladder in a stacked NHRA Funny Car field,” he said.

Miladinovich has his fingers crossed overnight that the forecasted rain stays away Saturday and he gets two more qualifying chances before Sunday’s eliminations. He opened Friday’s Funny Car session by rolling through the water box, only to have his car lose power as he started his burnout.   

2 – HAS IT BEEN 10 YEARS?! – Ten years ago at this race, Alexis DeJoria became the first woman in the Funny Car class to record a pass in the three-second range. Her 3.997-second elapsed time during qualifying, she said, “was a big deal at the time, especially for me.” A decade later, DeJoria said, “It’s crazy to think that we’re all targeting sub-3.9-second runs now, and that’s the norm.” The Bandero Toyota Supra driver said her DC Motorsports crew settled on a strong baseline and this weekend just needs to refine the tune-up. She had an unfortunate beginning to her weekend Friday. The left rear side of her car tagged the wall in the day’s lone qualifying session, as John Force crossed the center line next to her.



3 – ANYONE ELSE JUST SECOND – The NHRA no longer rewards 20 points to a driver for setting a performance record. And no speed, regardless of how stunning it is, has any bearing on qualifying order or lane choice or any other advantage a racer can earn. Still, Bob Tasca III’s 341.68-mph pass Feb. 9 during qualifying for the PRO Superstar Shootout has the drag-racing community abuzz. Neither Tasca nor his colleagues could duplicate the 341.68-mph feat or surpass it a month later at the NHRA season-opening Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla. So, naturally, fans at the Lucas Oil Winternationals at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip this weekend are hoping to see the first NHRA-recognized 340-plus-mph clocking.

Tasca said he was surprised no one has posted a 340-mph speed by now: “I thought for sure we would've seen it Saturday night in Gainesville. We were setting the car up like we did in Bradenton.”

That Bradenton race, co-crew chief Todd Okuhara said, saw all the stars align for a momentous run: “I think you got the perfect storm, right? You got really great conditions [at] sea level. The motor makes really good power there. The barometer is good, but you can adjust your spoiler for it. So it was just a perfect storm.”

As for when it will happen in NHRA competition, the consensus seems to be it will happen either early in the season, no later than the Charlotte four-wide event, or not until the later part of the schedule, at perhaps Reading or Dallas or even back here at Pomona during the Finals in November.

“It all depends on conditions,” Tasca said, and Okuhara concurred. “We could do it here [at Pomona]. If the conditions are right, we can do it in Phoenix. I believe we could do it in Vegas, and I believe probably the last chance we would have to do it as Charlotte before it starts to get too warm. Any one of those races, if the conditions present [themselves], we believe we can [do it]. Can we break 341? I don't know if the conditions will be that good, but we feel confidently that over the next couple of races, if the conditions present [themselves] as they did Saturday night in Gainesville, we fully intend to break 340.”

But Tasca shrugged at the notion of anyone, including himself, running as fast as 340 mph here.

“I've already done it officially,” the Dark Horse Ford Mustang owner-driver said. “Now, doing it officially at an NHRA national event, I'd love to do it, but it's already been done, and I've made this point very clear to everyone who's asked me. It's already been done. Whoever does it is going to do it for the second time, not the first time. The first time at a national event, I'd love to do it – but we already did it.”

He's particularly proud of the fact a Funny Car continues to outpace the fastest Top Fuel dragster. Robert Hight still has the NHRA speed record, at 339.87 mph, which he set at Sonoma, Calif., in 2017. That beats Brittany Force’s Top Fuel-best 338.94 from the 2022 NHRA Finals at Pomona.

“It's exciting for just casual viewers to break a milestone as the first time a Funny Car has ever done it. It's always been a dragster. It's the first time anyone's gone 340, and it's been 25 years since a milestone has been broken,” Tasca said. “So I don't want to take anything away from what my team's done. It's an incredible accomplishment to be able to do what we did, clearly.

“We're always trying to go faster. Everyone's going to be gunning for that 341 68. But at the end of the day, we were the first to break 340, which is a pretty incredible accomplishment. It's the first barrier broken at 1,000 feet. Many people didn't think we could break 330 at a thousand feet, and we did. So I'm excited about it.”

Okuhara said, “It's definitely out there for a few cars.   . . . I think it'll be sooner [rather than later], either early in the season or late in the season. There's a few cars that can do it.”

Ron Capps said he was hoping a Toyota would get the honor of the first 340-mph pass, namely his NAPA Camry. “We have a car that's always right there at top mile-an-hour at any event. So I really think we would've had a chance at it,” he said. “We've been close several times, so it'll happen. And it'd be cool to do it officially, but it was fun to watch. Of course, we wanted a Toyota to do it first and all that, but we were not in that place in our heads.”

Tasca’s performance at Bradenton was the first in the nitro ranks. It topped a 20-year-old Funny Car record. Gary Scelzi was the first to clock a 330-mph-or-better, in the second qualifying round of the 2004 Joliet, Ill., race, with a 330.15. What’s more, Tasca broke a 25-year-old nitro-ranks record. Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel) was the first to go 330 mph (330.23), in 1999, at Chandler, Ariz.

But will anyone reach the 350-mph mark?

“Will it be 350 in my lifetime? Probably, most likely, not. I don't believe so,” Tasca said. “And it is just going to become harder and harder to do it because we shut off at a thousand feet. It had been 25 years since we broke 330 miles an hour, believe it or not. And the reason it took so long is we went from a quarter-mile to a thousand feet, and then NHRA put some limiters on the cars slow us down. I feel that one of the greatest limiting factors of continuing to accelerate is distance. We're stopped at a thousand feet. So with that goalpost brought in, do I feel anyone's going to break 341 yet? I fully expect people to break it.”

But 350 is a distant dream, he said.

Okuhara said, “I don’t know. You never say never. I mean, 10 years ago we never thought we'd be going this quick or fast.” However, he said, “When you're out here racing, you don't go out trying to run speed. You want the car to run quick. So that's just a bonus when they run speed. So you never really go out there just trying to run fast. So when you get it all right, then that's what happens. But you go out there trying to run quick, but not necessarily fast.”         



4 – A REAL SUNSHINE STATE - Dragster-driver-turned-Funny-Car-driver Austin Prock has had a lot of success in Florida this year. But this historic racetrack in the cradle of drag racing, now named In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip, is this weekend’s backdrop for the continuation of what he called his “surreal” 2024. “I've always loved that racetrack. It's always been my favorite one to hit on the map,” he said. 

“It still feels surreal, being able to drive this Funny Car and race with my family,” said the winner of the PRO Superstar Shootout at Bradenton, Fla., and runner-up at the Gatornationals at Gainesville.

Prock is making just his third start in a Funny Car, and he already notices the comparisons to a Tip Fuel dragster.

“The dragster is a lot more elegant, I would call it. (With) the longer wheelbase, you're accelerating quicker, but the car is moving left to right, slower. I would call it the Cadillac of NHRA drag racing,” Prock said. “The way it moves around is a lot more slow and lazy. You can be a lot smoother on the wheel, where the Funny Car, when it takes off it, it really wants to hunt. It wants to go in whatever direction it wants to go. It's going there in a hurry, and you’d better be two steps ahead of it. So it's just figuring it out. I love driving both of them. It's just figuring out the tendencies and when to get on the wheel and when not to get on the wheel.”

As for his early accomplishments, Prock said, “It hasn't really sunk in yet. It's one of those deals where things are just happening and so much is coming at me at once right now. I feel like I'm just kind of like holding on to the wheel, but I’m definitely enjoying it. It still feels surreal, being able to drive this Funny Car and race with my family.” He’s substituting for Robert Hight, who took a medical leave of absence.

5 – ‘GUIDO’S TEAM’ – Ron Capps is in his third season as a team owner and driver. And curiously enough, what helps ease the pressure is knowing Dean “Guido” Antonelli is far more than just his crew chief. “I've always said, this is Guido's team. I may own it, but I let Guido run everything,” Capps said. “That's his car, his team to run.”

It’s a happy situation, for Capps and wife Shelley (like close friend Antron Brown and his wife, Billie Jo with their Top Fuel team) are all-in on the administrative side of the organization.

“Shelley's real involved. She's, she's very, very involved. She's been doing insurance and payroll and she's been overloaded,” Capps said. So he hired sister-in-law Lori (Adler) Capps.

“She ran Simpson Racing for Bill Simpson,” he said. “She helped me out and gave me a free firesuit, which helped me back then as a rookie, and a deal on a helmet. She met my brother [Jon, who at the time was a crew member on Capps’ Roger Primm-owned Top Fuel dragster], and then my brother started dating her behind my back. I threatened him not to screw up my Simpson deal.”

The story has a happy ending, for Jon and Lori have been married for more than 20 years – and Ron Capps has hired Lori “to take over a lot of the things. So it is really more family. I'm excited. And that'll take a load off Shelly a lot.

“Every day at our house, we’re up early, like four in the morning, five in the morning. We can't sleep. We get up and we go – we're just all day,” Ron Capps said. “It's stuff, business stuff for business, the company until six or seven at night every day. So we needed to hire somebody, but it's been fun.”

6 – SENTIMENTAL SITE - Funny Car veteran Cruz Pedregon said he always looks forward to the Winternationals because he and brothers Tony and Frankie “grew up down the street in Chino. So it's definitely a home game for us.”

What’s more, he has a special distinction at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip.

Pedregon said, “I remember winning the ’89 Winternationals in an Alcohol Dragster, then came back the very next year and won the 1990 Winternationals in an Alcohol Funny Car. I've also competed in Top Fuel here, so it's one of the few tracks I've competed in all four different categories.” If for no other reason, Pedregon said this race is a favorite because “it has all the cool places to go eat, namely In-N-Out Burger. And I'm glad to see them sponsoring the track.”



7 – RETAIL THERAPY – Jasmine Salinas was thrust into an early Top Fuel debut this weekend because of her father’s decision to step aside to tend to an undisclosed health concern. To keep herself occupied before Friday’s late afternoon qualifying pass – one that was especially crucial  because of a poor weather forecast that might rob everyone of getting in more qualifying runs – she sorted out lanyards for the team’s hospitality guests. But a good friend – Top Fuel rookie-in-waiting Travis Shumake – had another suggestion for her. Focus on the car, the team, the task, rather than mundane jobs. Go shopping, he urged. Crew member Adem Cave happened to need a pair of shoes. So Salinas made a trip to a nearby Target store, hoping retail therapy had a calming influence.

It didn’t hurt. Salinas settled into the provisional seventh place in the 16-car order with a 4.270-second elapsed time at 201.22 mph.
Crew chief Rob Flynn said after Salinas got a strong jump off the starting line, then cut off the engine early, “We didn’t want to get her over her head.

The track’s a little bit tricky, so we backed it off.”


8 – MAN IN THE MOON-EYES – Buddy Hull, appropriately, said he’s “over the moon” about driving the iconic Jim Dunn Racing “Mooneyes” Funny Car this weekend in his second start in the class. “This weekend we’re switching the body on the car to have a retro Mooneyes look,” he said. “We’re super happy about it and can’t wait for the world to see it. It's a cool race car, and to debut it in California, which is the homeland of drag racing, [is] just an incredible experience. Mooneyes has been a sponsor for Jim Dunn Racing for a long time, and to show off this iconic car and represent Big Jim is a big deal to me.”

Dunn, who has operated out of Southern California since 1949, has had a business relationship with the Moon Equipment Company, manufacturer of nostalgic hot-rod products, and its classic yellow Mooneyes graphics.

Hull said, “Relationships in this sport are everything. I’ve always loved having really cool car bodies, like my Hull’k Top Fuel dragster that I debuted at the U.S. Nationals last year. It’s a great way to engage with fans and demonstrate one of the many reasons why drag racing is so much fun.”

Hull – who said he feels “more at home and more comfortable in that Funny Car after eight or nine runs than I ever did in my Top Fuel car,” that “it's where I belong” – said he’s starting to master the basics.

“Every run in the car you learn more, and the car teaches you something. I've now made enough runs and been in the car enough time that I'm not having to think about where anything is. I'm just focusing on doing my job as the race-car driver,” he said. “The first three, four or five runs in a race car you have to think about ‘the lever is here’ and ‘this is how the pedal feels.’ But that's over with, at this point. It's simply just getting in there and doing my part as a good race-car driver.”
One positive he took from the recent Gatornationals was the support from his on-track rivals. “They really welcomed me into the Funny Car class. It’s been so cool to make the crossover from Top Fuel to Funny Car and from part-time to full-time. I was able to spend some time talking to Ron Capps, Bob Tasca III, and John Force during the Gatornationals, and they’ve all welcomed me in with open arms. They’re allowing me to fit in, in my own way. I can’t wait to see the impact I have on the field over the course of this year,” he said.


9 – FIREBALL FOR MILLICAN – Clay Millican’s Parts Plus dragster closed the day with the tentative No. 6 position in the Top Fuel lineup, but it came at a high cost, complete with a fireball.

“Wrecked the injector, wrecked the rear wing,” Millican said, as if taking inventory. “I felt like it was going OK. About the time I was shutting it off, kaboom. It was ugly, that’s for sure. Got the wingstand, too. We’ve got to figure out what happened before I go out and stomp on that loud pedal again. We don’t want to do that again. That’s way too pricey.” He said the likely cause of the mishap was valvetrain-related.  

10 – ELECTRIC RUN – Ford’s latest iteration of the Super Cobra Jet 1800, with Pat McCue at the wheel, registered a record 7.75-second elapsed time at 180.14 mph here Friday afternoon.  

“This is an upgraded car, so it's the same chassis, but we've done some pretty significant upgrades to the old car,” Stephen Johnsen, MLE Race Cars engineer, said. “So it may be the same chassis, but we've got a brand-new battery system in the car. It's about 40 percent lighter. We have a new Liberty five-speed in the car. So we've changed over from the three-speed to the five-speed. We have a new rear tire; new rear tire, bigger rear tire. We've back-halved the car. Essentially, we got to where we could with that initial iteration, and ultimately this is a technology test bed for us at Ford Performance at Ford Motor Company. We had to push it a little farther, so we've upgraded the car.

MLE Race Cars, with electrical engineer Chris Brune serving as motor specialist for the Cobra Jet, has partnered with Ford Performance to produce, modify and fine-tune the car.

McCue said, “We have four electric motors in pairs, and there's two pairs stacked up vertically on a gearbox. And that gearbox has straight-cut gears in it. And we made a real conscious choice on that, as well, of whether we wanted straight-cut gears or helical-cut gears. We were sort of going, ‘Well, this is going to be so quiet already. I think we want some noise for the fans to hear.’ And I've been told that if you stand at the end of the track, when you hear it go by, it kind of sounds like a jet car.

“Every sanctioning body is exploring EV or hybrid technology every single one of them now. So everybody's going to have some batteries on their car at some point,” he said. “The NHRA has been deliberate and very thoughtful in how they want to bring these cars out. And they've been great letting us run and do exhibitions when we want to. Rush to competition is not necessarily the best course of action.”

McCue has driven both the Ford Cobra Jet and the electric Copo Camaro, and he said General Motors “wanted to consider what an electric Copo Camaro could look like for the masses. And Ford Performance is very focused on advancing the technology and pushing the limits and trying to come up with the most powerful and the fastest electric drag car there is. And they've done a great job with us to do that. But I would love to see Ford Performance and General Motors and Dodge and maybe Toyota all work towards a lower power sort of entry-level car and then do a little bit of a demonstration program and put guys like Bob Tasca, Tony Stewart, other pro racers in the driver's seat, and rotate those drivers around, maybe even do celebrities. I mean, with half of the power, this car would be a joy to drive. It is still a joy to drive, but it is a bit of a handful.”