42nd Winter Nationals by Richard Parks


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Gone RaciníÖTo the 42nd Annual NHRA Winternationals

A strong Santa Ana wind brought sunny, dry and warm temperatures to the second oldest NHRA drag racing event. Sponsored by K&N Filters, the 42nd annual NHRA Winternationals was held at the famed Pomona Raceway track, February 7-10, 2002. NHRA unveiled its new sponsor, Powerade, by Coca-Cola, and though it may take some getting used to, the new sponsorship got off to a smashing success. Doug Kalitta, Doug Herbert and Tony Schumacher led the Top Fuel field after Thursday qualifications with John Force, Whit Bazemore and Gary Densham leading the Funny Car contingent. Jim Yates and Kurt Johnson ran 1-2 in Pro Stock. Friday saw Kenny Bernstein come alive in Top Fuel with a sizzling 4.583 at 326.16 mph run, only to be surpassed by an astounding 4.49 e.t. by Aussie Andrew Cowin. Cowinís effort produced the fastest unofficial 1/8 mile clocking in NHRA history with a time of 277.89 mph. Bob Glidden returned to the Pro Stock ranks after a four year hiatus and received thunderous applause whenever it was his turn to race, but failed to make the final field of 16 cars, in a very tough and competitive division.

Gary Scelzi and Alan Johnson unveiled their new car and sponsors, White Cap and Toyota. The car was only a few days old and ran credible times in the Funny Car class, placing 8th in the final field for Sunday. Scelzi has had previous experience in the Funny Car arena having driven an alcohol Funny Car before switching over to Top Fuel. It still seems a bit strange seeing the Top Fuel champion racing in the Funny Car class. There was a tremendous interest by the fans in the new car and especially in the impact that Toyota might have on the sport of drag racing. Alan Johnson was kind enough to give me some background on his new deal. The car is actually Bruce Sarverís old E-moola.com Funny Car and Bruce is a consultant with the team. As more sponsorship becomes available, Sarver is projected as a driver for a second Funny Car. Johnson says that it is imperative to field a second car in order to develop as much data as possible and to compete against other two car teams, especially John Force, who has three cars in his camp. The powerplant is a RodeckTFX 426 Hemi, and though it seems odd that Toyota is the sponsor, Johnson points out that only Dean Skuza in this division has an engine that represents his sponsor.

Toyota is a major player and sponsor in CART, though it will be moving to the IRL in 2003. Toyota is also heavily involved in the Import Series, and it is possible that TRD (Toyota Research and Development) may develop its own engines for the drag racing circuit depending on its market research. Johnson spent 18 months trying to convince Toyota to sign on as a sponsor. This is one team that has the skills and abilities to succeed and the drag racing community is rooting for them, because Toyota can change everything, if they decide to stay. Toyotaís success just might be the catalyst drag racing needs to bring back the carmakers that once dominated this sportís sponsorships. White Cap is also a new sponsor for Johnsonís enterprise. It is a 400 million-dollar construction and hardware firm with outlets in the Southwest. They see their sponsorship as a perfect match. The visibility they receive back East will allow this company to pursue nationwide expansion plans in the future.

In the finals, Larry Dixon defeated Kenny Bernstein in Top Fuel, and threw down the gauntlet to the Budweiser camp, that 2002 will be a continuation of last yearís exciting struggle between these two skilled and hard charging teams. Dixon and Bernstein qualified 1-2, and then finished in exactly that order. Dixonís time was 4.535 elapsed time at 324.75 mph to Bernsteinís 4.612 e.t. at 324.67 mph. In the Funny Car finals, John Force won his 99th National Event race in his career, beating Del Worsham. It was a ragged, ugly, out of control race for both drivers, but Force managed to control his car and avoid hitting the concrete barrier to edge out Worsham at the finish line. Forceís time was 6.260 e.t. to Delís slower 6.642 e.t. Afterwards, the personable and outgoing Force was nearly unable to speak, so emotional was his experience and victory, one in which the driver and not the car played the major role. This in itself was newsworthy and maybe a first for Force. In Pro Stock, George Marnell defeated Jim Yates by Three inches or nine ten-thousandths of a second on a hole shot at the line. Marnell needed every split second in his reaction time as Yates had a much quicker elapsed time of 6.812 to Marnellís 6.880 ET. Other winners were Steve Federlin over Mark Hentges in Top Alcohol Dragster. Pat Austin beat Bucky Austin in Top Alcohol Funny Car. Mike DePalma defeated Brett Brown in Comp Eliminator. Dan Fletcher overcame Jeff Taylor in Super Stock. Ken Passerby did exactly that to Eric Waldo in Stock. Mike Federer overcame Brent Cannon in Super Comp. David Coapstick outpaced Todd Stewart in Super Gas.