Matt Hagan racing his funny car at NHRA Winternationals

Light ‘Em Up – We’re Ready to Burn Rubber at the NHRA Winternationals

 2019-02-07T11:45:57  Racing David Hakim

The smell of nitro will soon fill the air in the city of Pomona, a southern California town nestled between the Inland Empire and the San Gabriel Valley. Within the shadows of the snow-capped San Gabriel mountains, Pomona has been the site of the iconic Winternationals, the NHRA season opener, for over five decades. The drag strip and pits are part of the enormous L.A. County Fairgrounds, even though the track is now known as Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. It has changed over the years with the construction of a permanent tower and updated grandstands to modernize the facility, but some areas have not been disturbed. The staging lanes and burnout box, starting line and shut down area remain on the same spots where drag racing legends competed. Drivers such as Garlits, Prudhomme, Sox, Landy and others, driving fast Dodge and Plymouth HEMI® engine-powered machines, blazed a path to new records and victories.

During the half-century of racing at Pomona, the technology to race down the drag strip has changed and advanced by light years. But the basic instinct to put the other guy on the trailer hasn’t. Going back to the dawn of the NHRA Winternationals, it was every racer’s dream to win Pomona and carry that momentum through the season. For most drivers and their crews, the Winternationals would be a litmus test to see if the team did their homework during the off-season by finding more horsepower.

If the pavement at Pomona could talk, the stories it could tell would be awesome. You’d hear tales from the old-school front engine dragsters to tricked-out Funny Cars dancing from guardrail to guardrail. It’s withstood the fury of nitro and blown purpose-built drag machines shooting flames out of their zoomie headers, to production cars with “blueprinted” engines winning the Stock Eliminator title in front of the packed stands. The NHRA Winternationals has seen it all and so have the fans that come out for this annual contest of horsepower, speed and nerves.

Today, it’s no different, as our Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) squadron of Charger SRT® Hellcat Funny Car pilots descend on Pomona to once again do battle with the competition. DSR has also brought along their guided missile, in the form of an 11,000-horsepower nitro-fueled, HEMI engine-powered Dodge/Mopar® Top Fuel Dragster driven by Leah Pritchett. Leah and her Dodge/Mopar stablemate, Matt Hagan, driving his Charger Funny Car, have parked their machines in the NHRA Winternationals’ winner’s circle in the past, and are looking to repeat. They both know their opponents have each stepped up their game during the off-season and will do everything in their power to get to the finish line first. Remember, drag racing is the purist form of racing, as two cars go down the track and only one comes back for the next round.

Matt Hagan, who won the NHRA Winternationals in 2017 and 2018, wants to keep his winning streak alive with another victory this weekend. Matt isn’t the only one with a Winternationals Funny Car “Wally” sitting on a shelf in the family room, as DSR teammate Ron Capps drove his NAPA Auto Parts Charger R/T Funny Car to victory at the 2016 race.

 

Leah Pritchett is also going for an NHRA Winternationals win, as the 30-year-old Top Fuel standout is once again ready to mix it up with her competitors this year. Two years ago, she and Matt Hagan not only dominated at Pomona, they also doubled up for Mopar and Dodge to win the 2017 opening event. It was also at this historic event that Pritchett was the first female driver in three decades to qualify No. 1 in Top Fuel at the Winternationals, a feat not seen since the legendary Shirley Muldowney grabbed the top spot back in 1977.

Like we said, the NHRA Winternationals is steeped in history, and has been a shining beacon of drag racing excellence ever since the first pair of cars lined up and blasted down the track way back in 1961. Along the way, there have been memorable moments contained in the annals of acceleration time trials, and this year’s race promises more of the same. You can see history in the making by catching the final eliminations live on FS1 beginning at 5:00 PM EST this Sunday, February 10, but if you can’t wait, the race will be livestreamed all weekend by subscribing to NHRA.tv.

Photo credit: Vintage images courtesy of NHRA National Dragster

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