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Winter Wonderland in Pomona

A Retrospective look at February's Winternationals 

16.3.05. Wet weather may have interrupted the NHRA’s season-opening CARQUEST Auto Parts Winternationals at Pomona, Feb 10-13 – the whole of Friday’s action was rained out – but the abbreviated action was nonetheless highlighted by some astounding numbers produced by the Pros.

Scott Kalitta annexed T/F honours in fine style

How about a Top Fuel bump spot of 4.59 seconds?! None of Europe’s counterparts have ever run close to the four-fifties – nor for that matter have certain Stateside entrants – but the cool weather was undeniably ideal for the blown-nitro machines.

Tony Schumacher set a new national speed record in the U.S. Army entry

Tony Schumacher put the U.S.Army entry on pole courtesy of a 4.44/326 pass and Australian Andrew Cowin anchored the 16-car record field with a strong 4.59/271.  In Funny Car, reigning POWERade champion John Force started  his ’05 campaign with a  4.69-second shot that was good enough to claim top spot, until, that is, former teammate Tony Pedregon blasted out a last-minute 4.68 to steal his former boss’s glory. The only problem for Tony was that the run ended with the Q-Racing entry up to its axles in the rain-soaked sand pit at the end of Parker Avenue. The Monte Carlo body was damaged and the driver had the ignominy of sinking up to his knees in the quagmire when exiting the vehicle! Not the best of starts for the Quaker State Chevrolet, but at least it went on to contest eliminations, unlike the much heralded new Brut-sponsored Dodge Stratus of former Snake Racing driver Ron Capps which didn’t even get off the starting blocks on Sunday when an oil tank ruptured while the team attempted to fire up the car in round one of eliminations.

Tony Pedregon put the Q Racing Monte Carlo Funny Car on pole spot

Tommy Johnson Jr made a great return after a long sabbatical from the winner's circle

Whilst the Fuel classes performance parameters may have been almost unworldly, this is unlikely to be repeated because the rule book now mandates installation of rev-limiters, starting at the Mac Tools Gatornationals. Emasculation is the new buzz word in the supercharged nitro ranks, so get used to it!

Erica Enders in the Cagnazzi Racing Chevy Cavalier Pro Stocker

Pro Stock’s debut event of the current season saw much media attention being given to Erica Enders, a competent young lady from Houston who has worked her way up from the Jr. Dragster ranks to a ride in the ultra-competitive Pro Stock ranks.

Erica Enders

The  21-year-old Texas student may have suffered a setback when she put the car on its roof during pre-season testing in Bradenton, Florida, but heck, 2004 rookie of the year Jason Line started his P/S career in  a similar manner before going on to finish 2nd in the 2004 points’ championship behind all-conquering  Greg Anderson in team owner Ken Black’s two-car set-up. Erica didn’t make it in the 16-car elimination field but it’s good odds that she’ll make quite an impression in the Cagnazzi Racing Chevy Cavalier before the year is over.

"King" Knut Soderquist was on hand to peddle his line of injectors

A glitch in the timing system played havoc with Funny Car qualifying on day one, leading to Force Racing rookie driver Robert Hight being given no time or speed for what looked like a storming run! His father-in-law John was less than impressed and following discussions among officials it was decided to run all qualifying using just one lane; solo qualifying shots being better than none.

Eliminations highlights on a track that has impressively benefitted from new concrete launch pads laid over the winter break, included Top Fuel ‘comeback kid’ Scott Kalitta’s unprecedented string of 4.4-second runs in the Mac Tools/ Jesse James machine that started in qualifying and ended with a trip to the winner’s circle. Tommy Johnson, Jr ended a Funny Car losing streak that stretched back to 2001 and last but not least, Pro Stock youngster Dave Connolly’s excellent victory in the Bill ‘Grumpy’ Jenkins-powered Bullet Motorsports Cavalier.      

Robert Hight (left) made his first run in NHRA POWERade competition

Whilst many drivers revelled in career-best times and speeds, the same could not be said of the formidable John Force’s 3-car AA/FC team; each member of the trio lost in the opening round, leaving just daughter Ashley to fly the flag in the Darien & Meadows Castrol/Hot Wheels A/Fuel dragster for what her dad shrewdly terms the ‘next generation’. And when she was defeated in the semi-finals of Top Alcohol Dragster it must have made for a reflective drive back to Fortress Force, the former Lexus car sales centre in Yorba Linda that now serves as arguably the best drag racing headquarters anywhere.

Good to see Brut back in drag racing once again, this time with former Skoal/Don Prudhomme Racing AA/FC driver Ron Capps

Plaudits go to U.S. Army T/F driver Tony Schumacher ( whose father Don campaigns no less than eight Pro-class teams, incidentally, consisting of 1 T/F, 3 AA/FCs, 2 Pro Stockers and 2 Pro Stock Bikes) for establishing a new speed record of 334.65mph and commiserations to Brady Kalivoda, who was given a wild ride in the Bill Miller Engineering Fueller when a shrapnel-induced slick failure slammed the car into the guard wall near the finish line on a 4.72 run in round one. Brady has now parted company with Miller ( though apparently not as a direct result of the car-bending incident) but he’ll hopefully obtain a seat in another entry to keep his full-time-driving dream alive.

Andy Bissett, (centre) former crew chief on the American Car Imports Alcohol Dragster, has teamed up with Hitchmsn Racing TA/D shoed by Jon Capps, brother of Ron 'Brut' Capps

Dave Connolly secured the trophy in Pro Stock eliminator

Possibly the biggest shock of the race was provided by Greg Anderson who, for the first time in a very long while, failed to dominate Pro Stock proceedings, qualifying only in mid-field and was eliminated in round two.

Skoal Racing team owner Don ‘the Snake’ Prudhomme was left with a broad grin on his face when Tommy Johnson’s Funny Car victory came on the fortieth anniversary of his very first NHRA national event win at the wheel of Roland Leong’s ‘Hawaiian’ slingshot.

Millionaire air freight company owner and Top Fuel 3-car team owner/crew chief Connie Kalitta was similarly elated when his son went all the way to a date with photographers and even veteran ‘Grumpy’ Jenkins managed a hint of a smile – not easy with one of his trademark cigars wedged between his teeth – when he saw the win light illuminate for ‘his’ Pro Stock driver.

RaceGirl T'F with new sponsor, Barrett Enterprises

All in all a surprise-filled ’05 account opening for the touring acceleration show, but there’ll certainly be plenty of other shocks as the season progresses. Stay tuned...

Story & photos: Andy Willsheer  

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