Mopar® Machines Pound the Pavement at Pomona

6 months ago Racing

The season-opening NHRA Winternationals has been making noise and tearing up the pavement in the same spot for 62 years as the traditional kick-off for the start of the drag race season. While sponsor names have changed over the decades, the location where the greatest names in drag racing have competed has never moved. The purists call it the LA County Fairgrounds, part of the massive Fairplex facilities that hosts many events throughout the year. But this weekend, NHRA has branded this historic piece of concrete and asphalt Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. While many race fans climb the massive bleachers or hang out in the luxurious Sky Boxes perched above the grandstands to see Pro drivers like Leah Pruett or Matt Hagan in their HEMI® engine-powered nitro machines do battle in Top Fuel and Funny Car, there’s a legion of dedicated and diehard Sportsman racers who begin their qualifying and eliminations way before many fans trek through the gates.

It’s the Sportsman Racers who are the backbone of the sport. They may not be as well funded as the professional teams, with their corporate multi-million-dollar sponsored racing machines, transporters, and squad of full-time mechanics, tuners, crew chiefs and others that keep the operation functioning efficiently like SEAL Team 6, but the Sportsman guys are just as hardworking and dedicated as the Pros. The Sportsman classes within NHRA offer a wide variety of cars that may have begun life as someone’s daily driver. The NHRA is virtually the only racing organization that offers amateur racers the opportunity to compete on the same track, on the same day, as the professionals. If you’re good and lucky, you can be on the stage along with the Pros sharing the glory of winning an NHRA national event. But for many Sportsman racers, knocking off the cobwebs, getting back in the grove and once again doing battle down the strip with fellow competitors is pure therapy in shaking off the winter blues.

“The NHRA Winternationals is the fun place to start every year,” said longtime Mopar® racer Joe Faherty from Apple Valley, California, who’s competing in Super Stock with his blazing yellow 1968 HEMI Barracuda. “You get to see all the new stuff and the combinations the guys have worked on during the off-season. NHRA even has some new classes, so it’ll be fun watching those evolve this year. You spend the winter getting ready and the NHRA Winternationals gives you the butterflies as you get out to the first race of the year and to me, it’s the most fun. I’ve made it down to the quarterfinals in Super Stock at three Winternationals and I’m hoping to win this event soon!”

Another California native and veteran Mopar Sportsman Racer is Tim Hall. His consistent 1974 Dart Sport 360 is a Winternationals regular in the Super Stock class. This Mopar small-block V8 engine under that scooped hood makes sweet music when he spins it up to 7,500 rpm.

“I’ve been racing at the Winternationals since 1972 and consider this my home track. This is a really special place and I really do well here,” said Hall.

Chuck Stubeck towed his beautiful 1969 Plymouth Road Runner from Chatsworth, California, to compete at this year’s NHRA Winternationals. He’s also a veteran of this historic race and looking to score his first of the season down the iconic track.

“I’ve been drag racing 57 years and have been competing with my 440 Six Barrel Road Runner for 22 of those years. Because we’re only 55 miles away from Pomona, this is like our home track. It’s our first race of the year and we’re extremely happy to get into this event, especially now with the new track surface and prep. My engine makes a lot of torque, and I was a little nervous during qualifying, as the car is either going to hook or spin the tires. Luckily, the car hooked and booked and ran well here,” noted Chuck.

Las Vegas resident Paul Wong entered the NHRA Winternationals with a unique car that was built when JFK was president. His 1962 Plymouth Savoy, powered by a 383-cubic-inch big block with twin four-barrel carburetors, was running strong in Stock Eliminator. “There’s great history and tradition racing at the Winternationals. I love coming here, but my favorite race is still the NHRA U.S. Nationals at Indy. There, you can go real fast during class eliminations, something that’s no longer part of the Winternationals,” smiled Paul.

Despite the famous reputation of the Winternationals, not all drag racers that travel down its storied and celebrated quarter-mile surface where NHRA history has been made for over 60 years feel shivers up their spin when going flat-out down the same strip that made legends out of Garlits, Sox, Landy and many more Mopar drivers.

“It’s just another race to me and I’ve been racing too long,” laughed Greg Luneack from Vista, California. His 1970 Challenger “MOTOWN MISSILE” tribute racecar is a fast machine and Luneack can lean on it to extract more power out of it if needed. While the original “Missile” ran Pro Stock back in the early 1970s and was powered by a 426 HEMI V8 engine, Luneack’s car is powered by a more sedate 440 Six Pack and competes in the Stock Eliminator class. “The Winternationals doesn’t really have special meaning to me, I did runner-up here back in 1992 in Stock Eliminator, but I’ve had more success at the Vegas events.”

Each competitor has their own unique and varying thoughts when racing at the legendary NHRA Winternationals. Like the cars they compete with, their views are all a bit different, but in the end, they wouldn’t want to be anywhere else during the month of February. If you missed this year’s event, check out our massive photo gallery of Mopar Stockers and Super Stockers pounding the pavement at Pomona.

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