NHRA Winternationals Finals Rained Out, Move to Phoenix

Tony Stewart Racing's Matt Hagan takes on 16-time champ John Force in the Luas Oil Winternationals finals - Anne Proffit photo
John Force is looking for his first race win in nearly two years – Anne Proffit photo

Well, so much for the 64th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals. Weather won this weekend; no races were completed before skies erupted in rain, hail, thunder and lightning Sunday afternoon, March 24. NHRA, heeding the advice of meteorologists – and after failing to complete both Saturday qualifications and Mission Foods’ #2Fast2Tasty Challenge competitions – decided to postpone final rounds until the series goes to Firebird Motorsports Park southeast of Phoenix two weeks from now.

It was a wise decision and one that was likely costly to NHRA, but at least two qualifying sessions took place to align the field for eliminations, one Friday and a single run on Saturday. And, under mostly clear and very cool Sunday skies, three rounds of racing for Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock gave the hardy Southern California fans at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip east of Los Angeles some surprises and, in other cases met some expectations.

Once the NHRA’s Mission Foods Drag Racing Series alights to Firebird Raceway southeast of Phoenix, those three final rounds will occur, together with runs for the NHRA’s Arizona Nationals, third race on the docket of a [now acknowledged] 20-event campaign. And perhaps, this time, the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge finals will actually happen, too. Only the first round was accomplished Saturday before weather claimed that competition, as well.

2023 Winternationals Pro Stock winner Dallas Glenn is ready for another victory – Anne Proffit photo

Of course, the Pomona track’s 7PM curfew meant it was crunch time from Saturday morning through Sunday evening, after a beautiful opening day of qualifying on Friday. Late Friday afternoon, cars went down the track and, impossibly, some of the best racers weren’t in the field. There were only 15 dragsters qualifying on Friday, but two-time Winternationals winner Justin Ashley was slowest of that group. In Funny Car, neither John Force nor Alexis DeJoria were in the field after the first round of qualifying; she failed to qualify on Saturday. Gatornationals Pro Stock runner-up Cristian Cuadra couldn’t get down the track Friday or Saturday and had to take a trip to the sidelines.

Some Friday surprises were Billy Torrence as the No. 1 Top Fuel driver, Daniel Wilkerson leading an 18-car field in Funny Car with his Ford Mustang, followed by part-time racer Jeff Diehl’s Toyota Camry. Beyond Cristian Cuadra’s inability to get his Mustang down the Pomona quarter-mile, there was no shock in seeing Erica Enders atop the time sheets, but relative newcomer Brandon Foster of KB Titan Racing earned fifth place on Friday, yet got bounced back to tenth after Saturday’s lone session.

After the single qualifying session on Saturday, the fields had changed from Friday’s single round of time trials. Brittany Force stood atop the dragster class after qualifying third on Friday; Matt Hagan earned the Funny Car nod (5th in the first qualifying session) and Dallas Glenn of KB Titan vaulted from 12th to first in his single Saturday opportunity. Now it all comes down to two weeks from now and the third ace of the year.

Justin Ashley is looking for another Winternationals win – Anne Proffit photo

Top Fuel’s final Lucas Oil Winternationals round at Firebird will feature Justin Ashley, hoping to get a third straight race win in this contest, albeit at a different venue. He’s matched against Tony Schumacher, the eight-time titleholder looking for his first victory in nearly two seasons, going into his 158th final round. It should be a battle royal, with both of them also running in the Mission Challenge race, Schumacher racing Billy Torrence and Ashley against Winternationals No. 1 qualifier Brittany Force.

To reach their final rounds, Schumacher defeated tire-smoking Terry Totten, Kalitta Motorsports’ Gainesville victor Shawn Langdon and Billy Torrence. Ashley defeated Shawn Reed, Steve Torrence and Brittany Force to reach his final round. “It’s always disappointing when you’re going into the finals and your car is running well and you’ve got the momentum rolling, you’re driving well, the crew is doing a great job, you have lane choice. And all of a sudden it hails,” Schumacher said once the skies took charge of the day. “It will be a battle no matter where we get the race in,” Ashley stated. “It won’t be raced in Pomona, but it’s still the finals of the Winternationals, so all chips are on the table.”

Eight-time champ Tony Schuacher has his dragster primed for the win – Anne Proffit phot

The Funny Car finals place 16-time Flopper champ John Force against four-time, reigning champ Matt Hagan. It’s Chevrolet against Dodge and the rivalry is, as ever, afire. Force hasn’t seen a Wally winner’s trophy since the second Charlotte race in 2022. He’s hungry. He’s very hungry for a win and, of course a 17th title as well as an eighth Winternationals victory. “I’ve got a real good hot rod and I think we’re on to something. I’m excited about it,” Force said. “I’ve done well at Phoenix over the years. I love racing Hagan. He’s a great racer and a great champion,” Force acknowledged. Force defeated Jim Campbell’s Chevy, Bobby Bode’s Mustang and Ron Capps’ Toyota GR Supra to reach the finals.

Tony Stewart Racing’s Matt Hagan takes on 16-time champ John Force in the Luas Oil Winternationals finals – Anne Proffit photo

Hagan, for his part was clean in his day’s work at Pomona, taking out Jim Dunn Racing’s Buddy Hull in a similar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, Jeff Diehl’s Camry (Diehl ended up in 9th place after the two qualifying sessions) and Gatornationals winner J.R. Todd to get to this final round for Tony Stewart Racing. Looking for his 50th national event victory, “We didn’t leave here a loser today, so that’s a good thing,” Hagan admitted. “It will be challenging going into the Pomona final at Phoenix now. We had set up the car for the Pomona track and will have to make adjustments at Phoenix to race Force for the Winternaationals title. But that’s what we’re going to do!”

The mega Pro Stock teams are meeting in the finals, with six-time and reigning Pro Stock champ Erica Enders of Elite Motorsports taking on KB Titan Racing’s Dallas Glenn, who had a somewhat “off” 2023 season. Enders is looking for her 50th career Pro Stock victory and was on pace to achieve that status at Pomona before the rains came to stop her from entering her 82nd national event final round. She defeated teammate Fernando Cuadra Jr. in the first round, took out KB Titan’s Brandon Foster in the quarterfinals and defeated familiar foe Greg Anderson with her fastest and quickest run of the weekend. “We had been fighting an uphill battle all day long and really hadn’t put a number on the scoreboard that we were proud of. That semifinal run we finally put it together,” she said.

Erica Enders’ perfect start to tht 2024 seaso will have to wait two weeks – Anne Proffit photo

Glenn is looking for a repeat of his 2023 Winternationals victory and, to get to this delayed final round, got by KB Titan’s rookie Sienna Wildgust, defeated Elite’s David Cuadra and Mason McGaha, the latter having one of his better racing weekends in at least a year. Glenn’s Chevrolet Camaro had been totally rewired on Saturday morning and helped him advance to his No. 1 as well as his three round wins, he said. “Pomona has always been up there as one od my favorite tracks I’ve always loved coming here and hopefully we’ve turned it around,” after his 2023 difficulties.

In addition to the marks set in the pro categories, Ford brought out its Mustang Super Cobra Jet 1800 EV to play on Friday and it achieved some incredible numbers in a pair of runs, with a time of 7.759 secs at 180.14 mph in the quarter-mile, the first time an electric car has dipped below 8 seconds and above 180mph.

Ford’s Super Cobra Jet 1800 EV broke some records – Ford photo

NHRA has decided how it’s going to complete the Winternationals weekend, and how it’s going to conduct its Arizona Nationals. On Friday April 5, the opening round of the Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge takes place at 4PM, with its finals following the second round of qualifying at 11:30am Saturday. Saturday’s final qualifying session at Phoenix will feature the Winternationals finals as the final

pair in each class.

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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