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Saturday News & Notes from the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals

News, notes, quotes, photos, and video from Saturday of the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip. Updated throughout the day.
23 Mar 2024
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
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Albert Hammond lied. Turns out that it does rain in Southern California.

The wet stuff began falling here this morning and has continued throughout the morning. As of about 10 a.m., the rain had lightened enough for the Simpson NHRA Safety Safari to begin the long job of drying about a mile of concrete and asphalt so that we can get some racing in today, but the rain returned not long after. It's going to be a wait-and-see kinda day.

Pro sessions were scheduled for 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., but the first one is going to have to wait. In the meantime, we’ll try to keep your entertained here with updates and news and notes about the weekend. 

Early indications are that the rain may stop at 11:30 a.m., which means we could be racing by 1:30 to 2 p.m. Fingers crossed!


Ron Capps went into the season-opening Gatornationals attempting to tie former boss, Don "the Snake" Prudhomme’s record as the second-winningest Funny Car driver at the historic Florida track, but fouled out on J.R. Todd's weird throttle double-step in round two.
“Obviously, we wanted to get another Gatornationals win, but that was so weird up there,” said Capps, a four-time Gatornats winner. “You're so keyed up. It was a long delay for the starting line, which is great because I love that. It really makes everybody be on their toes. But when your right foot and your butt is strapped into 13,000 horsepower, you could cut the air with a knife. J.R. just made a mistake, and he felt terrible, but it's nothing he did wrong. It's just part of it. I tried to hold my foot, but I heard his car and reacted.”

Capps was runner-up at the two most recent Winternationals (2023, 2022) and won the 2021 event; and is seeking his fourth consecutive Pomona 1 final round appearance in 2024.


As good as Capps has been recently, John Force is still the Winternationals GOAT with seven wins, but it wasn’t always easy. He failed to qualify in three of his first five entries at the season opener, then won it for the first time in 1991, and followed with victories in 1993, 1997, 2002, 2010, 2012, and 2014 and added eight Pomona wins at the Finals.

According to the team, in his 45 Winternationals starts, Force has been the No. 1 qualifier 10 times and owns a career Winternationals round-by-round record of 66-36. Overall, between the Winternationals and Finals, Force has won a record 140 rounds of racing at In-N-Out Pomona Dragstrip. 

John Force Racing drivers have won 30 races at Pomona between the winter and fall events, with 29 coming in either Top Fuel or Funny Car. The only non-nitro win there came from JFR vice president Ashley Force Hood, driving a Top Alcohol Dragster in 2004.


Antron Brown enters the Lucas Oil Winternationals with 74 NHRA national event victories as he seeks to achieve a milestone 75th win. While Brown has three wins in Pomona, none of them have come at the Winternationals.

Brown would become just the 12th driver in NHRA history — following on the heels of John Force, Dan Fletcher, Frank Manzo, Greg Anderson, David Rampy, Warren Johnson, Tony Schumacher, Bob Glidden, Jeg Coughlin Jr., Ron Capps, and Pat Austin — and just the seventh Pro racer to reach that milestone


Although no Funny Car driver ran in the threes in Friday’s lone qualifying session, it was 10 years ago at this race that Alexis DeJoria made some history as the first female Funny Car driver to clock a sub-four second run, a 3.997 that she ran during qualifying.

DeJoria, a former SoCal resident, was first introduced to NHRA Drag Racing when she visited the Pomona track with friends as a teenager.

“It’s crazy to think that we’re all targeting sub-3.9-second runs now, and that’s the norm considering it was at this exact race 10 years ago when our team clocked our first sub-four-second pass,” she said. “That was a big deal at the time, especially for me.”


NOON WEATHER UPDATE: Still sprinkling here and there, but the radar says that'll stop soon. The Safety Safari is doing a little drying work here and there but they're not ready yet to put the full force of action into play.

12:30 p.m.: The Simpson Safety Safari is actively drying the track. No projected start time yet, but this usually takes about two hours.


Erica Enders, already the winningest female in motorsports history, is looking for her milestone 50th career win this weekend. She grabbed No. 49 two weeks ago at the season opener and is primed and ready for No. 50.

“When I first stepped on the scene in Pro Stock, there was a lot of talk about how many wins females have,” she said. “I never thought I could ever catch Shirley Muldowney with her 18 let alone Angelle Sampey with 47, so, it’s definitely meaningful to me to be approaching that 50th win. It’s substantial and I’m looking forward to it.”

Enders has two victories at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip. Her first came in 2014 at the fall contested NHRA Finals when she also set the track ET record at 6.480 seconds. Her second and most recent victory at the facility was at the Winternationals in 2022, which also was the 900th Pro Stock race and a special win for her.


The exciting Kalitta Motorsports nitro double at the Gatornationals, with Shawn Langdon winning in Top Fuel right behind J.R. Todd’s victory in Funny Car, was a long time in coming. It was the 18th time that the Kalitta group had cars in both nitro finals but the first time they both won.

The first two times they had a chance for a double, neither driver won. The third time, at the 2014 spring Las Vegas event, Alexis DeJoria won in Top Fuel but Doug Kalitta was defeated in the Top Fuel final.

Incredibly, the next six times they had a chance to double, neither class produced a Team Kalitta win, with none more frustrating than the 2014 four-wide event in Charlotte where Kalitta and then-Top Fuel driver Todd were both in the final quad, but finished third and fourth and DeJoria runner-upped in Funny Car.

Todd won in Top Fuel at the 2016 Seattle event, but Del Worsham fell in the Funny Car final. After two more 0-fers, Todd won twice in Funny Car with Kalitta runner-up in Top Fuel both times, then Shawn Langdon won the 2020 U.S. Nationals and Todd was runner-up in Funny Car. Then Todd won the Gatornationals two years ago and Langdon was runner-up. After both Kalitta and Todd missed in their Seattle finals last year, Langdon and Todd finally broke the streak in Gainesville this year.


1:15 p.m.: Just as the Safety Safari was making great progress on drying the track, the rain returned with a steady downpour. 


John Force is not currently qualified in the Funny Car field and if the 16-time world champ should miss the field, it will end his qualifying streak at 109 races, dating back to the 2018 event in Houston.

It would be the second time that the GOAT has lost a triple-digit qualifying streak behind his then-record skein of 395 straight successful qualifying outings, which began at the 1988 Winternationals and ended with a DNQ at the spring Las Vegas event in 2007.

Pro Stock hero Greg Anderson owns the current record, at 454 events and still going, as he has not failed to make the starting 16 since the fall Las Vegas event in 2002, when he ended up a stunning 24th. Tony Schumacher, Top Fuel’s all-time wins leader, has the second-longest streak at 418 events, but that’s asterisked a little bit because he did not compete in either the 2019 or 2021 seasons. (Had Schumacher run both of those seasons and qualified at all of the events, his streak would be at 462.) Schumacher’s last DNQ was at the 2003 Topeka event.


3 p.m.: After yet another downpour, the persistent NHRA Simpson Safety Safari is back out on the track, working to dry the racing surface.


Even though rain has so far precluded any action on the racetrack, the competition was nonetheless thick in the pit area where the KB Titan Racing team squared off against Elite Motorsports in their second practice Tree challenge, a reaction time competition between drivers and mechanics from both squads. Here’s how it all went down …



3:45 p.m.: Tremendous progress continues to be made in drying the track, and the Safari crew is also scraping rubber from the starting line, to be followed by tractor-rubber application in preparation for the resumption of qualifying. A projected 5 p.m. time has been announced, and Top Fuel will be the first thing down the track.


Top Fuel Q2: After a long day of waiting and hoping, Top Fuel took to the track at 5 p.m. for Q2. With a few no-shows among entrants, there’s just 15 cars, so the qualifying drama will focus on the top of the field, where the No. 1 qualifier will get a bye in round one. Immediately, the Simpson Safety Safari's skill at track prep is evident as Justin Ashley, winner of the last two Winternationals, fired off a 3.753 to move to the No. 3 spot.

Doug Kalitta then lost a cylinder early and a supercharger late but clocked a 3.78 to provisionally move into the top half of the field and it didn’t take long for someone to steal Billy Torrence’s No. 1 spot as one pair later Tony Stewart cracked off a 3.737 in the black and gold Mobil 1 entry, though no one, including Stewart, expects it to stick at the top.

One Tony then displaced the other as Tony Schumacher took the Leatherwood Distillery ride to a 3.745, but Schumacher tuner Mike Neff immediately says that won't stick either, predicting a 3.70 pass in our future and he's immediately half right as Brittany Force steamed to a 3.711 to steal the No. 1 position .... for now. Will it stick?

The final two pairs are the first round (and only) round of the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge, pitting the Gatornationals semifinalists against one another. There's no time for a final due to the weather, and teams will split the purse based on the outcome of these runs.

Shawn Langdon again beats Antron Brown but his 4,03 is not what he hoped for. Steve Torrence gets revenge on his dad for Gainesville, but neither driver improves after losing traction at mid-track, and Force nabs her 47th career No. 1 in just 234 starts, an even 20%, or a No. 1 every five starts. She'll get a first-round bye for her efforts.

As qualifying closes, word comes down that the runs by Stewart and Josh Hart (5.395) were invalidated due to a timing-system issue. Both remain in the field. Because of the glitch, non3-2-1 qualifying bonus points will be awarded to anyone in this top Fuel session.


Funny Car Q2: Any drama about John Force not qualifying was answered in 3.99 seconds as 16x guarantees himself a spot in Sunday's field. He's No. 1 for now, but there's no way it stays there. Cruz Pedregon quickly takes away No. 1 with a 3.98 alongside Alexis DeJoria, who was a stunning DNQ at the Finals here in November. She pedals her way to a 5.47 which gets her the No. 15 spot for now with three non-qualified drivers behind her trying to bump her out.

Buddy Hull bumps her down to No. 16 with a 4.82 and now it's just Paul Lee trying to outdo DeJoria for a spot in the field, and Jonnie Lindberg tunes Lee into the field at DeJoria's expense with a 3.99. Losing that run yesterday with the guardwall tap really hurt. Alongside Lee, Ron Capps takes the top spot with a blower-backfiring 3.893. Buddy Hull will end up on the bump and draw the No. 1 qualifier Sunday. Matt Hagan then matches Capps' e.t. with a 3.893 but gets the top spot based on better speed, 330.15 to Capps' 326.71.

As it was in Top Fuel, the final two pairs of Funny Car qualifying are the #2Fast2Tasty rematches from Gainesville, with event winner J.R. Todd taking on Bob Tasca III. Todd gets the win light again and his early-lift 4.20 actually improves on his Friday pass of 4.615.  The final pair is a tire-smoking pair, and Austin Prock gets the win light with a 5.46 after he pedaled the throttle 13 (!) times. Hagan locks down his 51st career No. 1.


Pro Stock Q3: A whole lotta shaking going on in Pro Stock through the first couple of pairs and Sienna Wildgust is on the bump with a  6.625. Cristian Cuadra is the only one who can bump her but we won't see him until the end of the session as he was the Gatornationals runner-up and is part of the final two pairs and the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge.

Camrie Caruso makes a hard run at Erica Enders' lead, but her 6.557 is just a thousandth shy. and it's time for #2Fast2Tasty. Cristian Cuadra, not in the field, not only loses his rematch with Dallas Glenn but shakes hard and will not qualify; Wildgust is in the field in the second race of her rookie season. Glenn, meanwhile, goes to No. 1 with a 6.536, but Enders is up next in her rematch with Greg Anderson. her 6.54 gets the win but not the No. 1 spot, which goes to Gelnn for the fifth time in hs young career.