I love the Winternationals. Always have. This is my 30th, and the memories never die. Indy is bigger, Virginia quicker, Las Vegas more flashy, but the Winternationals are magic. The points are all at zero and the hopes are all at 10 million. Everyone is tied for first place and if you're any kind of serious player you're still thinking it's going to be a championship season.
As a fan, I couldn't wait for the opening day of the Winternationals. You'd cruise up and down every aisle of the pits, ogling all of the new stuff. New sponsors, new paint schemes, new Funny Car bodies. Click, click, click … I'd go through two or three rolls of film before the cars ever hit the track.
Back in "the day" there was no internet to instantly announce driver or crew chief changes, so you never knew for sure who was going to be driving for whom when the season cranked up. The rigs were smaller – mostly gooseneck Chaparral trailers and crewcab duallies – and it often was easier to get a front-row seat on any of three sides to watch the teams toil on their mounts. Back then, it wasn't uncommon to see Prudhomme hefting a blower from trailer to manifold or to see any other top-name driver covered with clutch dust or oil. It was a different time – not necessarily a better time, as many will tell you – but the siren's call of the Winternationals dragged many a team westward over snow-covered Rockies to be part of The Big Go West.
The Winternationals is …
… Reuniting with all of your racing buddies in the stands after a long winter apart.
… a snowcapped, sun-splashed, palm tree backdrop.
… "Dyno Don," "the California Flash," "Dandy Dick" and "the Red Light Bandit" defending SoCal Pro Stock honors against Jenkins, Sox, Glidden, and Gapp.
… "the Snake" winning his first national event … "the Beard," too … and "Hollywood"
… perfect paint jobs and straight-arrow unscorched decals for at least the first pass.
… finding out whether that new crewmember is going to shine or melt under Sunday pressure.
… the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre."
… "Big Daddy's" rear-engined Top Fueler and "Grumpy's Vega revolutionizing the sport.
… "Brad Brad," "Wild Wilfred," "Double A Dale," "the Munchkin," Ken Veney, and Lou Gasparrelli.
… Top-end grandstands packed with camera-toting fans looking for that big bang of the new year.
… the flyin' Hawaiian, Force nosediving and flipping in to the beach, "T.V. Tommy" on fire, up on two wheels and over in the eyes, Gary Ormsby's Castrol GTX streamliner going boom in the bleach box, Al Segrini lighting 'er up in winning the final (twice!), and Eddie Hill's blowover.
… the sun sinking behind Kellogg Hill Sunday as the finalists pull to the line.
… tasting the first glory of the season and rolling out onto Arrow Highway with the points lead.
Man, I love the Winternationals.