Welcome to Winternationals week and the countdown to the beginning of the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season. The race begins in just two days, and with this year's delayed start to the season, I'm sure I'm not alone in being itchy-throttle-foot-ready for my biannual trip to Pomona.
It's a "home game" for us at NHRA headquarters as Auto Club Raceway at Pomona is less than 5 miles from the office (and less than 10 miles from my home), which means the joy of sleeping in your own bed, no airline or rental-car worries, and a built-in hedge against all weather-related travel issues.
The good weather news is that we've had some precipitation here the last few days that has left the foothills behind the old girl blanketed in snow for that picture-postcard look that we all love, as in the 1979 photo that tops this column. The bad news is that we may not be completely through with the wet stuff (note that I never use the "R word" here), but it's certainly not event threatening, and the cool weather may make for a record-setting season opener.
While we're gearing up for the lid-lifter, it's also a busy time here at National DRAGSTER: This week's issue is our popular Readers Choice special, and it's chock-full of great articles suggested by our readers. We have a great Joe Pisano story being written by Brad Littlefield, who has talked to a horde of folks for their memories of "Papa Joe," plus stories on "Big John" Mazmanian, Phil Bonner, Tom Prock, the 1967 Springnationals, Top Sportsman racing, and Pintos in drag racing. I worked on the last one and dug up great old color photos of Pinto Pro Stockers, Funny Cars, and Sportsman machines from throughout the years.
Anyway, with all of that going on and Pomona beginning Thursday, I won’t have a new column Friday (and we’ll have to see about next Tuesday as well). I thought I’d dig into the Insider vault and share some older Pomona columns I wrote. Some of you Insider veterans may remember and enjoy them again, newcomers will get a chance to catch up, and me, I get a chance to catch my breath. Columnist fail? Perhaps, but I see it as win-win-win.
In 2008, I wrote about the Winternationals Top 10 lists that we published in National DRAGSTER in 1989 (and the close call that we had with Wally Parks about same), which allowed me to segue into the great tale of Don Ewald's crazy first-round loss to Don Garlits in the first round of Top Fuel at the 1975 event. Ewald, who runs the popular We Did It For Love website, was gracious enough to again recount the story behind his five minutes of infamy that helped Garlits win the world championship that year (according to Garlits). Ewald also discusses the creation of the WDIFL site. Good reading. [Read column]
Later that year, I wrote a piece about the 1980 Winternationals (the second one I attended; the first was in 1976) and, in particular, the debut there of John Collins' Pioneer Audio Express Datsun 280ZX Funny Car. The 1980 season was the first in which NHRA allowed the use of foreign car makes in the class (so common now with Toyotas), and Collins talked about the unique way that he acquired Pioneer Stereo as his primary backer. A good chance to see two 30-year-old Phil Burgess-snapped photos! [Read column]
I also wrote about what I called the Winternationals Mystique in the first half of an early-February column that year with a list called "The Winternationals is …" [Read column]
One of my favorite Winternationals-themed columns took a look at the nearly unprecedented success enjoyed by Roland Leong's Hawaiian entries at the Winternationals from 1964 through 1971. We all know that Don Prudhomme won his first of 49 events in Leong's car at the 1965 Pomona event, then Leong won it the next year as well with new shoe Mike Snively. What a lot of people don’t remember is that Leong also won the race in 1964, in Top Gas, with Danny Ongais at the helm. After Leong's new Hawaiian Dodge Funny Car took flight at the 1969 event, Leong and drivers Larry Reyes and Butch Maas won back-to-back titles in 1970 and 1971. There were some lean Pomona years after that, and Leong didn’t get back to the Parker Avenue winner's circle until 1998, when he tuned Ron Capps to victory in Prudhomme's flopper. Lots of great old photos and cool quotes from Leong here. [Read column]
And because weather is kind of on our minds this week, here are entries about two of the most weather-affected events in Winternationals history, the 1965 event (aka "the one-day wonder") and the 1978 event, where it actually snowed at the track.
OK, time to wrap up this week's stuff and get ready for the Big Go West. We'll be doing the NHRA Interactive blogging again at this event and select other events this season, so drop by and say hey. Remember, no new column Friday, so look for me sometime next week, same Bat blog, same Bat blogger.