64th Lucas Oil Winternationals this Week is Second of 20 NHRA Races

The 64th Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals this coming weekend is shaping up to be a very, very special event. Held at historic In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip, the four-day event will have much to recommend it to track visitors, and for those that can’t make the trip yet can enjoy NHRA coverage on FS1.

In addition to seeing NHRA’s Mission Foods Drag Racing Series entries in Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock compete in three qualifying sessions and four rounds of eliminations, this weekend marks the second – of 10 – races for the Legends Nitro Series, which will take over the quarter-mile dragstrip after running their first event of the season during the March Meet at Famoso Dragstrip outside Bakersfield, CA.

Atomic Punk Nitro Legends Funny Car – Wayne Lederer photo

Lucas Oil Sportsman racers have control of the track on Thursday and into Friday, with appearances for Ford’s Super Cobra Jet 1800 exhibition early on Friday and a cacklefest at the Hot Rod Junction, where cars of the past congregate to enthrall visitors. Also look for the second Flexjet Factory Stock Showdown class at this race, where Mark Pawuk will be trying to gain a second straight win after earning his first win of the year at Gainesville in a tribute car to the late Don Schumacher.

Saturday will bring viewers the first Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge of the season, giving semifinalists from the first race at Gainesville three weeks ago, the opportunity to gain the victory they might not have earned at the Gatornationals. Gainesville saw the first ever double-up for Kalitta Motorsports in the team’s esteemed history and a double-up for Toyota.

In fact if Toyota win Top Fuel this weekend, it would give the manufacturer four Top Fuel race wins in a row at this iconic race track, after Justin Ashley won the Winternarionals last season and the year before – he’s looking for a three-peat this weekend – and Doug Kalitta won the World Finals and his first championship – after 26 years – in November of 2023.

Top Fuel has 16 entries for this race; there were supposed to be 17, but earlier in the week, Mike Salinas handed daughter Jasmine, who intended to debut here as a second Scrappers Racing entry, the reins to his dragster as he steps aside for health reasons.

Justin Ashley is ggoing for three in a row at Pomona – Anne Proffit photo

That leaves reigning champ and Finals winner Doug Kalitta, four-time champ Steve and father Billy Torrence, Ashley, three-time Top Fuel champ Antron Brown, two-time champ Brittany Force, eight-time TF titleholder Tony Schumacher, Clay Millican, Josh Hart, Gainesville victor Shawn Langdon, Terry Totten, Shawn Reed, Krista Baldwin in Pat Dakin’s former equipment that she just acquired, Ron August and Tony Stewart, like Jasmine Salinas a rookie in this class. Stewart will salute long-time sponsor Mobil 1 with gold and black colors at Pomona.

Langdon, whose previous victory was in 2020 at the U.S. Nationals on Labor Day weekend, is hoping to keep rolling, now that he has sole custody of Brian Husen as his crew chief. “A lot of this sport is results-driven, so when you go in a drought, you [see] the things online,” he acknowledged. “But you take it with a grain of salt, keep your head down and keep working. It’s a great atmosphere over here; we’re going to get everything ready for Pomona and we consider it one of the majors. We’re going to keep working and try to progress as a team.”

Clay Millican has been running well – Anne Proffit photo

The Funny Car class will be out-sized this weekend with 21 entries listed for the Flopper category., the largest entry since 2014! They’ll be led by reigning four-time champ Matt Hagan, driving his Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat and Gainesville victor J.R. Todd’s Toyota GR Supra.

Hagan won this race last year at the Lucas Oil Winternationals when it was the third, rather than second race of the season. Right now, Todd has the momentum in hand – like his teammate Langdon in Top Fuel – and he knows, “As long as we can keep going to the semifinals, I think we can set ourselves up for a run at the championship,” the 2018 Funny Car titleholder said. “But top-to-bottom, it’s tough in Funny Car and you can’t take anybody lightly. It’s a matter of survival on race day.”

This duo will have to contend with a boatload of championship-caliber competitors, including Bob Tasca III’s Ford Mustang, three-time champ Ron Capps’ Toyota GR Supra, 2023 World Finals winner Chad Green’s Mustang, Buddy Hull in Jim Dunn’s Flopper, Cruz Pedregon’s and Paul Lee’s Chargers, Terry Haddock in a Mustang, Dave Richards’ GR Supra, 2nd gen racers Daniel Wilkerson’s and Steven Densham’s Mustangs, Jim Campbell in a Chevy, Jeff Diehl’s Camry, Jason Rupert’s Mustang and Alexis DeJoria’s GR Supra.

John Force hankers for that 17th Funny Car title – Anne Proffit photo

John Force Racing’s patriarch, John Force is still aching to gain a 17th championship in his Chevrolet Camaro SS and Austin Prock, wheeling a similar Camaro in support four-time champ  Robert Hight, on hiatus for medical issues looks for his first class win. Force, the effervescent 155-race victor, knows the significance of winning at Pomona, his home track. “Pomona is personal to me,” he said. “My love for Pomona goes back to the ’60s, when I was driving a truck. I went out and looked through the fence to watch the starting line and watch people racing.”

While his status has changed since then and he’s gone on to out-sized wins, Force still has the bit between his teeth and the desire to succeed. He’ll have to contend with his own teammate, Prock, who has perhaps even more momentum than Todd, after winning the PRO Superstar Shootout and being runner-up to Todd in Gainesville. “Any time I get in a race car,” the third generation drag racer said, “I want to do the absolute best job I can. And more or less, it’s not about pacing myself to everyone else, it’s proving myself to myself!”

Erica Enders has started 2024 with two wins – Anne Proffit photo

Seven has a nice ring to it and six-time champ Erica Enders hopes to keep her hot start to the 2024 NHRA season in Pro Stock humming with her massive Elite Motorsports team. After earning her first-ever Gainesville victory, her 48th in Pro Stock (and 49th overall) just a few weeks ago, Enders has confidence. Her PRO Superstar Shootout win at Bradenton in February has kept the Texan’s momentum flowing. “Being undefeated with two races under our belts, this team is definitely looking forward to heading to Pomona for the [Lucas Oil] Winternationals. We debuted a new [Camaro] car this year and usually, with that comes some growing pains, so we’re excited that we’re starting off on the right foot!”

There should be 20 Pro Stock cars on Pomona’s Fairplex grounds, with the majority allocated to either Elite Motorsports or KB Titan Racing, the two Pro Stock powerhouse teas. Enders will have her hands full dealing with the Camaros of KB Titan’s Greg Anderson, a five-time titleholder, Matt Hartford, 2023 Winternationals winner Dallas Glenn, Camrie Caruso, Brandon Foster, Deric Kramer and Eric Latino. Her Elite team are no slouches either: Aaron Stanfield, Troy Coughlin Jr., Gainesville runner-up Cristian Cuadra in a Mustang, Jeg Coughlin Jr., Jerry Tucker, Fernando Cuadra Jr. and David Cuadra’s Mustang-bodied cars. (Fernando Cuadra broke his hand and is out for the first part of this season).

In addition the McGaha family, Chris and Mason, will be trying to gain some traction in this class, along with Joey Grose, Kenny Delco and Sienna Wildgust.

Dallas Glenn won this race last season – Anne Proffit photo

Beyond the three NHRA Mission Foods professional classes, the weekend offers several Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series categories, including Top Alcohol Dragster. Last year Tony Stewart prowled the TAD ranks and nearly earned a first straight-line championship in this class, but this year the class has three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle (PSM) champ Angelle Sampey in the pits, with former Don Schumacher Racing teammate and current team owner Antron Brown mentoring her. Sampey made it to the quarterfinals at Gainesville, where she lost a close contest to eventual winner Joe C. Maynard, in his debut race. Maynard, of course, is part of JCM Racing, who have taken over Tony Schumacher’s Top Fuel entry and are backing other players in the nitro ranks.

In addition to Top Alcohol Dragster, Top Alcohol Funny Car, Competition Eliminator, Super Stock, Stock Eliminator, Super Comp, Super Gas, Top Sportsman, Top Dragster and Factory Stock Showdown are scheduled to run in this 64th edition of the Lucas Oil Winternationals.

The only hang-up for everyone could be the weather: While Thursday and Friday should be mostly sunny with highs in the low 70s, there is a 40 percent chance of rain for Saturday and slight showers forecast for Sunday with much lower temperatures in the low 60s. As Pomona backs up against the San Gabriel Mountains, inclement weather does tend to stick around before moving on to its next locale. Let’s hope it doesn’t rain on NHRA’s parade!

About Anne Proffit 1248 Articles
Anne Proffit traces her love of racing - in particular drag racing - to her childhood days in Philadelphia, where Atco Dragway, Englishtown and Maple Grove Raceway were destinations just made for her. As a diversion, she was the first editor of IMSA’s Arrow newsletter, and now writes about and photographs sports cars, Indy cars, Formula 1, MotoGP, NASCAR, Formula Drift, Red Bull Global Rallycross - in addition to her first love of NHRA drag racing. A specialty is a particular admiration for the people that build and tune drag racing engines.

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