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Tue, 1 Mar 2011, 09:08 PM

The Good and Bad News
By Bob Frey
Photo copyright 2011 Auto Imagery, Inc.

If I remember correctly, last week I mentioned how neat it was to go to Pomona for the Winternationals. I said that one of the unique things about the event is the fact that the mountains in the background always added a special touch, especially when they are covered with snow and it's seventy or eighty degrees at the track. And while that's true, I didn't mean that snow at the track was a good thing. Ok, so it didn't actually snow at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona this past week, but it did get cold, very cold, and we did have hail at the track on Saturday. In fact, we had so much hail and it was so cold that at least two teams collected all the white stuff and made snowmen. Really!! Walking around the pits on Friday and Saturday I saw more hoods, heavy jackets and gloves than I had seen back home in New Jersey for the past few weeks, and it's winter here. Eventually we finished the race, the Full Throttle classes and the two alcohol classes were completed on Sunday with the rest of the Lucas Oil categories finishing on Monday. It sure wasn't the way anyone wanted to start the year, but the good news is that the race is over while the bad news is that it was tough on everyone, the teams, the fans and the NHRA. Oh well, now we can move forward and head to Gainesville for the Gatornationals, and regardless of what happens there, at least we know it won't snow. Or it better not.

Dixon set the National E.T. record.
The race itself, run between moments of cold, windy and rainy weather, provided some very interesting moments including a pair of national records in the Top Fuel class. Larry Dixon and the Al-Anabi team ripped off a 3.770 that was good enough to break the existing Top Fuel mark of 3.771 that was set by Tony Schumacher in Richmond in 2008. Tony and his Army team then came back to record a stunning pass of 327.03 miles per hour and that was more than enough to break the old speed mark of 325.61 that he set in Las Vegas last year. Setting one record at an event is always note worthy, but setting two is almost unheard of. Did you know that the last time both ends of the Top Fuel record were set at one event was back in 2001? That's when Kenny Bernstein ran 4.477 to get the elapsed time record and Mike Dunn went 330.05 in the Yankees' dragster to set the speed mark. Both of those were set at the historic Chicago race, a race that went down in history as producing some of the quickest and fastest runs of all time. Did you know that, even though he set the record at that event, Mike Dunn didn't record top speed? Kenny did, but he couldn't back it up so Mike left the Windy City

Schumacher set the National speed record.
with the record....As good as he has been in his career, Larry hasn't made a habit of breaking records. In fact, did you know that the last time he set the national elapsed time record was in 1999 when he went 4.486 in Houston? That 4.486 number would be a factor in Pomona, too, because that's exactly what Larry ran in round one when he smoked the tires and lost to Terry McMillen. As I often say, what are the odds..After leading qualifying with that 3.770, everyone expected Larry to waltz through the eliminations, but as we all know, what we expect and what happens at the drag strip are two entirely different things. Terry, in his Amalie Oil / University of Northwestern Ohio car, went 4.188 and that was good enough to beat the reigning champion..Larry isn't the first one, and he won't be the last, to not win the Winternationals after qualifying number one. Did you know that in the history of the race, which goes back to 1963 in the Top Fuel class, the number one qualifier has only won the race five times and nobody has done it since 1999? Even stranger, after Mike Snively won from the top spot in 1965, it was thirty years before the number one qualifier in the dragster class won again. Amazing, isn't it?....Morgan Lucas, who hadn't won a race in over a year, won in Pomona and that makes him the Full Throttle points leader in Top Fuel. Did you know that

Lucas celebrates win with crew.
Morgan becomes the thirty-ninth driver to lead the points in the history of the class? Now, if he can say that he's the points leader after the next Pomona race he'll be really excited, won't he? Morgan, who qualified ninth in the field, joins a very select group of racers who have won in TF from the bottom half of the field. Did you know that he is just the third driver to win from the ninth spot and only the tenth overall to win after starting in the bottom half of the field at Pomona?...Shawn Langdon, Morgan's Lucas Oil teammate, was the runner-up and he will head to Florida still looking for that elusive, first ever national event win in Top Fuel. Besides that, he will head to Florida looking to beat Morgan for the first time. Did you know that those two have raced four times and Morgan has won all of them? Shawn has faced twenty-five racers in his TF career and there are only three that he hasn't beaten. Morgan, Rod Fuller (0-2) and Spencer Massey (0-3)..I always knew that Morgan and Shawn were good, close friends, but I never knew how far back they went until this week. Did you know that those two went to school together and they both graduated from the same high school in the same year? Yep, the two Top Fuel finalists were both proud members of the class of 2001 at Jurupa Valley High School in Mira Loma, California? I'll bet their teachers are very proud, and I know that Forrest and Charlotte Lucas are very excited, too.

Hight vs. Hagan in the Funny Car final.
It was Team Force against Team Schumacher in the semi-finals and the finals in the Funny Car class and Team Force came out on top. Well, at least Robert Hight came out on top when he beat Matt Hagan in the final round, but before that it was Matt over Mike Neff and Robert over Ron Capps. Something tells me it's not the last time those two teams will square off in a final round this year.. Matt won his half of the semi-finals when he beat Mike on a holeshot and then he lost the same way to Robert in the finals. I have a feeling that Pomona may not be Matt's favorite track since he lost on a holeshot to Bob Tasca there last fall and now dropped the final round even though he had a quicker elapsed time than Robert. Did you know that in the history of the Winternationals, and the Funny Car class goes back to 1969, this was just the fifth time that the Funny Car final has been won on a holeshot? Ironically, even with that small number, it's the second time in as many years that it happened, coming after John Force beat Ron Capps that way last year. John, by the way, is the only driver to win two finals at Pomona

Hight and crew celebrate win.
on holeshots, the one last year and the other in 1993 when he beat Del Worsham....Even though he didn't win the race John did set another milestone. With his two rounds of competition John has now competed in 1501 rounds, and that is the most of any drag racer in history..Robert's win, which was the nineteenth of his career, moves him into the top twenty on the all-time winners in the nitro classes and he is now tied with Gary Beck on that list. Did you know that in both fuel classes there are only thirty-four drivers who have won ten or more races in their careers and only twenty who have won nineteen or more? That, therefore, is a very small and very select group that Robert has joined and he isn't done yet..Jimmy Prock, Robert's crew chief, continues to do amazing things with that team and he has to be listed among the top crew chiefs of all time. While Robert does a great job of driving he is

Cruz Pedregon qualified No. 1.
given a very good car, one that just seems to get better as the day goes on. In fact, Robert went quicker in every round on Sunday, beginning with a 4.121 win over Tasca before posting a 4.107 win over his boss, John Force. He followed that up with a 4.070 pass to beat Ron Capps and then went 4.056 in the final round, a time that was good enough to beat Matt's 4.023. I guess that's what they mean by a total team effort, isn't it? The car, the driver and the crew all did their jobs and that's why Robert is the Winternationals' champ and why he'll be a threat to win the championship this year....Jimmy is a second-generation drag racer, and even though his father, Tom, was a driver, it looks like Jimmy learned a lot from being with him in his early days. Did you know that Tom Prock competed at six Winternationals events and that he made it to the semi-finals twice? In 1976 he beat Raymond Beadle and Gordie Bonin before losing to Don Prudhomme in the semi-finals, and then in 1978 he beat Ezra Boggs and Gordie Bonin and then lost to Tommy Ivo in the semis..Cruz Pedregon looked great in qualifying when he ripped off a 4.015 to lead the field. Did you know that this was the 40th number one spot for Cruz and that's third best in the Funny Car class behind only Don Prudhomme and John Force? Cruz beat his brother, Tony, in round one before losing to Capps in round two. The round one meeting between the brothers was the fourteenth between them and it was only the third time that Cruz beat Tony in the first round.The Funny Car class looks wide open to me and it will be fun to watch the teams in Florida next week to see if the top performers from Pomona can repeat at the Gatornationals.

Erica Enders qualified No. 1.
Maybe one of the biggest surprises of the weekend was the fact that Mike Edwards did not qualify in Pro Stock. With only two sessions for the Pro Stock cars, Mike never got a handle on the cold track and he missed the field for the first time since the Las Vegas race in 2007. Never one to make excuses, Mike said that he had just as many chances as every other driver and he now had lane choice on the interstate on the way home. Nice that he could laugh about it, although I'm sure it's eating him up. Mike has a great car and team and I fully expect him to rebound next week....Erica Enders also made news when she grabbed the top spot in the field. After beating Richard Freeman in round one she seemed poised to make a run at the final round, but when she wasn't able to back up after the burnout in round two, her day was over. As frustrated as she was, it still was a good sign for her and her Za Za Energy team that the car ran well, and I stand by what I said earlier, and that is that she will win races, plural, this year..Jason Line did win the event and that's his first victory since Gainesville last year and it is the twenty-second win of his career. Did you know that ties Jason with Dave Connolly for tenth place on the all-time Pro Stock win list? Jason also did

Line and crew celebrate win.
something that had only been done twice before in the history of the race. When he won from the ninth spot, did you know that he became just the third Pro Stock driver ever to win the Winternationals from the bottom half of the field? George Marnell did it when he won from the sixteenth spot in 2002, and before that the only other driver to win from the bottom half was Bill Jenkins in 1972. And Bill's job was even tougher because it was a thirty-two car field and he started the day in the seventeenth position, so he had to win five rounds to win the race. Other than Jason, George and Bill, the Pro Stock race has always been won by someone who qualified in the top half at Pomona..Buddy Perkinson made the field and that is a good sign for Ford fans,

Buddy Perkinson quaified in his Ford.
because along with Larry Morgan, that means that there will be two competitive Fords this year and that spices up the entire class. Buddy, Richard Freeman and Vincent Nobile were three drivers who each made their first Pro Stock start when they qualified in Pomona and that's also a good sign for the class.Greg Stanfield looks like he's ready to pick up right where he left off last year, and that is, as one of the top challengers for the Pro Stock title this year. Driving the new look Team Safety Sentry Motorsports car, Greg made it to the finals on a combination of good driving and a lot of power and he's going to be tough to beat this year. Did you know that he was first off the line in all four rounds on Sunday, and that included the final round against Jason? For his career Greg has left the starting line first sixty-seven percent of the time and that's good in any class, especially Pro Stock. By comparison, Jeg Coughlin, generally acknowledged as one of the best, leaves the line first sixty-four percent of the time. Like I said, Greg is very good.

Tony Bartone set the E.T. National record
in the final against Doug Gordon.
There was a lot of exciting racing in the Lucas Oil classes and that included a win and a national record performance by Tony Bartone and the Rick Jackson Top Alcohol Funny Car team. Tony lowered the record to a 5.452, the time he used to beat Doug Gordon in the final round. Did you know that the old record, 5.454 which was held by Frank Manzo, has stood since the Richmond race in 2006? As good as he has been and for as many good cars as he has driven, did you know that this is only the second time that Tony has held the national elapsed time record? The other time came at Maple Grove in 2000...Duane Shields swept to victory in the alky dragster class and that gives him sixteen wins in the class and it ties him with Jay Payne for sixth place in TAD history..David Rampy didn't win the race but he did make it to the finals and that extends one of the great streaks in drag racing history. Did you know that David has now been to at least one final round in each of the last twenty-three years? Now that's some record, isn't it?

The "Snake Pit," featuring a lot of Don Prudhomme's old cars along with dozens of other historic vehicles, was a big hit in Pomona and so was the "track walk" that "Snake" did on Sunday morning. Watch for more of these walks and lots of special displays at races throughout the year as we celebrate NHRA's 60th anniversary. I know there will be a great car display at Gainesville so make sure you check it out if you're at the race.

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