2009 NHRA Kragen O'Reilly Winternationals

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Santa Pod Raceway's 2008 Main Event and the FIA European Finals were tough with the amounts of drenching rain that fell but the 2009 NHRA Kragen O'Reilly Auto Parts Winternationals season unwrapper, the inaugural event of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series turned into a seven day event as California's long drought suddenly ended with cold rain storm after rain storm dropping copious amounts of precipitation on the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona race surface and snow on the backdrop San Gabriel Mountains. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday were all rain effected or completely washed out, only Thursday and Saturday permitted enough dry spells to allow all a one shot qualifier. Rescheduling for Monday was also rained out but Tuesday dawned cool and fine and became the main race day where all Pro classes were concluded. However, an hour after the Pro Stock final it was deemed too cold at around the mid forties Fahrenheit to safely run the remaining quarter finals onwards in the Sportsman classes which were concluded on another chilly but sunny Wednesday.

Ed McCulloch, Crew Chief for Ron Capps NAPA Auto Parts Funny Car was quoted as saying he'd never had to contend with conditions such as the track was experiencing with the rain and the cold temperatures. It was amazing to witness drivers like Melanie Troxel, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Doug Herbert to mention but a few at the race with no ride so far this year despite there being a record entry in these trying financial times. NHRA had made concessions for the hard pressed fans offering among other things discounted tickets and the racers benefited with help like no oil down fines.

Tuesday's race day had wall to wall sunshine, a welcome window in the rainy gloom with temperatures in the mid fifties to low sixties but previous rain and this being a work day it prevented many fans from returning, making for some eerily depleted grandstands, even more so on the equally sunny Wednesday for the last few rounds of Comp, Super Stock, Stock and Super Gas. This made it a seven day in succession event, not quite the longest in NHRA history as it was finalised just after midday just short of the longest, the 2007 Maple Grove event that went on for seven days into the evening.

A one shot Top Fuel Dragster qualifier happened on Saturday with several racers assuming there would be a second and were crestfallen to say the least when it was disclosed that that was it. Larry Dixon, keen to make a good first outing in the new Alan Johnson Al-Anabi Racing machine was visibly distraught at his DNQ. Antron Brown led the eighteen strong pack with a 3.708 one thousand foot time, no speed as the clocks were at times being somewhat temperamental, Joe Hartley made number two with a fine 3.748. Swiss driver Urs Erbacher managed a good 3.915/305 for sixth spot and Britain's FIA European Champion, Andy Carter came in at number thirteen with a 4.020 clocking surprising a lot of Americans with his wheels up pass.

Round one began on a very overcast and cool Sunday and kicked off with Mike Strasburg's 3.997/253 win over rookie Spencer Massey in Don Prudhomme's U.S. Smokeless Tobacco car whose 4.185/260 was not good enough despite a holeshot. Steve Chrisman ran a 4.086/285 to beat a returning David Baca who slowed with problems before half track. Urs Erbacher suffered shake and slowed to record no data as in the other lane, Doug Kalitta's monster fireball from half track a 4.648/194 win upset the opponent's clocks. A tight race ended with a 3.846/310 win for Morgan Lucas as Joe Hartley chased hard with a 3.955/307. Steve Faria went bang at three quarter track as Antron Brown pedalled to a 4.222/279 win to the 5.099/155. Andy Carter faced Brandon Bernstein who left first but started to shake and spin the tyres to a 4.758/192 as Carter clicked on his win light only to have it cruelly taken away as he had just strayed over the centre line in his effort, losing body panels in the process and being disqualified. The rain followed this pairing and the round continued four hours later with Cory McClenathan getting the better of rookie Shawn Langdon, 3.934/313 to a head gasket torching 4.221/217. The last pair was Tony Schumacher taking a 3.845/312 win over Del Cox's 4.008/302 try.

Mike Strasburg had to leave after Sunday's rain and must have been kicking himself as opponent Antron Brown on a solo shook and popped the blower just sixty feet out but taking the lucky win on the Tuesday when eliminations began again. A close race ensued as Doug Kalitta managed to stay ahead of Cory McClenathan and scored the win with a 3.826 to the 3.886/296. Steve Chrisman lost cylinders on his way up track, his 5.159/136 losing to Morgan Lucas' 3.886/305. A shock loss by Tony Schumacher to Brandon Bernstein ended the Champs hopes, his 3.865/313 failed to catch Bernstein's 3.834/311.

The semi finals pitted Antron Brown in the Matco Tools car against Brandon Bernstein's Budweiser/Lucas Oil machine but an up in smoke attempt saw Bernstein lose, his 9.268/80 being no match for the 3.778/312 from Brown. Morgan Lucas in Geico/Lucas Oil car left first in his bout with Doug Kalitta but succumbed to tyre shake and lifted at two hundred feet out allowing Kalitta's 3.825/313 the win.

The final was a heck of a race as Antron Brown's blue Matco Tools dragster left first by a tad and clocking a 3.847/307 but was nipped in the lights by the 3.822/308 winner from Doug Kalitta's Mac Tools/Technicoat/DHL/Red Line Oil/Kalitta Motorsport machine.

An eighteen car Funny Car field was ably led by Robert Hight with a 4.037 with no speed over the one thousand feet distance. Del Worsham in the Alan Johnson/Al-Anabi Toyota flopper made up for the teams disappointing Top Fuel showing by gaining second spot with a 4.038. In third and fourth place came Ashley Force Hood and John Force on a 4.061 and 4.092 respectively.

Round one was successfully completed on the rain affected Sunday just being completed before it deluged again. Champion Cruz Pedregon got close to the wall on his 4.618/232 but lost to a track oiling Jack Beckman, a 4.196/284 win. Del Worsham pedalled briefly as Bob Bode worked more on his side of the track with Worsham's 4.193/310 beating the 4.744/226 try. Mike Neff red lit, shook and got so crossed up around two hundred feet out he ended up on two side wheels a couple of times and losing to the 4.127/302 from Bob Tasca lll, Rookie, Matt Hagan was on and off the loud pedal but lost to Ashley Force Hood's 4.334/303. Jerry Toliver, now in the Jim Dunn/Canidae Impala pedalled and got crossed up allowing Robert Hight an easy 4.159/302 win. Ron Capps got a lead on John Force and hung on to win with a 4.125/304 to the losing 4.141/301 charge by Force. Tony Pedregon looked as if he had it in the bag but a mid track wheelie had him joust with the centre line and was disqualified handing the win to Jim Head's pedalling 6.653/96. Ending the round was the Gary Densham and Jeff Arend pairing with Densham taking the nod, a 4.336/283 win to the 4.736/188 try.

It was Tuesday when the next round was able to resume, held now in wonderfully sunny but quite cool conditions, the air temperatures not getting much above the low sixties Fahrenheit and track temperatures about the mid sixties. Jim Head opened the stanza with a close to the wall 4.095/305 win that dealt out Ashley Force Hood's slow leaving 4.059/308. An embarrassing moment occurred to the new Del Worsham driven Alan Johnson/Al-Anabi Toyota as it made cracking noises on fire up, Gary Densham had already burnt out and was ready to stage as Worsham's crew realised they had crossed plug wires; a short burnout to the line and a holeshot unfortunately did not work as the 4.279 was beaten by Densham's 4.129/297. Jack Beckman just plain red lit away his chances against Robert Hight, leaving Hight to collect the 4.097 win. Completing the round was Ron Capps whose 4.088/304 stayed well ahead of Bob Tasca lll's 4.250/264.

The semis started out with Gary Densham's all black and unsponsored Impala shaking and going into tyre smoke allowing Jim Head in the equally unflattering all black Toyota to power to the win with a 4.108/299. The other pairing was a good race as Ron Capps in the NAPA Auto Parts '08 Charger left first, closely followed by Robert Hight in the Automobile Club of Southern California Mustang who chased hard. Capps clinched it with a 4.054/305 as Hight came second with a 4.084/302 try.

The final showed the colourful NAPA Auto Parts car of Ron Capps out of the Don Schumacher stable against the plain black, self financed Toyota Solara of Jim Head. Capps led out of the hole and as Head pedalled through tyre smoke the win light shone for Ron Capps with a 4.154/296 to a 4.246 runner up.

Back on the full quarter mile race track a total of twenty-two factory hot rod Pro Stocks vied for places in the eliminations and back on top was Greg Anderson with a 6.588/209 and teammate Jason Line was in second spot with a 6.616/209, those who failed to make the cut included a returning Erica Enders.

Eliminations once again were rain hampered and just two pairs got in a race on Sunday before the black skies sent down the rain. It was starting to moisten when V. Gaines took the win, a loose in the lights 6.895/166 as David Beckley slowed with an 8.049/178. Proving that rain was really affecting the top end came when Johnny Gray also got loose at the top end, his 7.219/191 beating a bouncing Kurt Johnson. It was a fine but cool Tuesday with only the hardened race fans and those on ‘sick leave' making the grandstands look very patchy but Jeg Coughlin was first out and he downed Larry Morgan's red light with an easy 10.092/89. Warren Johnson headed to the wall and lifted losing with a 7.023/162 as Jim Yates carded the win, a 6.603/208. Mike Edwards took out Greg Stanfield in a tight race a 6.595/209 clinched it as the 6.610/208 just failed. A battle of shakers ensued with Allen Johnson rescuing his situation an 8.672/171 beat the 8.928/146 from Tom Hammonds. A crossed up launch from Rickie Jones cost him the race as Jason Line took no prisoners with a 6.679/209 win. Ending the round was Greg Anderson and Ron Krisher, a 6.568/210 was hard to beat as Krisher lost with a 6.654/208.

The cool but sunny Tuesday continued with round two seeing the Champion, Jeg Coughlin go out with a 6.588/208 as Allen Johnson kept ahead on his holeshot taking the win with a 6.549/209 in a stunner of a bout. Another followed with Jason Line getting the nod with a 6.549/210 to see off Johnny Gray's 6.595/209. Jim Yates popped the chutes early allowing Mike Edwards to get the light with a 6.674/210. A piece of history came next as Greg Anderson laid down the quickest run in history, a 6.528 at 211 mph and beat V. Gaines' 6.594/209 try.

In the semi finals Allen Johnson shook in the Mopar/J&J Racing Dodge Stratus and was off the throttle at one hundred and fifty feet out as Jason Line powered on to the win with a 6.584/211. In a surprise move in the other pairing Mike Edwards gained a great leave, a .008 and that coupled with a 6.579/209 soundly beating the slower leaving Greg Anderson's 6.551/210 in his Summit Racing Equipment '09 GXP.

Finals time was as the sun set behind the west grandstand, Jason Line in the Summit Racing Equipment '08 GXP managed a reasonable light and he ran the winning 6.567/211 beating the Young Life/Art '06 GXP of Mike Edwards who could only chase with a losing 6.575/210.

Top Alcohol Dragster saw some rule changes with the nitro burners having to cope with less of a percentage to propel them down the track and it showed as only one A/Fueller made it through to the semi finals where we pick up the results. Chris Demke in the Peen-Rite Abrasive Finishing car got a good number in the form of a winning 5.270/266 to oust Ed Schmeeckle in the LSS Racing/Luebbe Schmeeckle car whose 5.305/268 tried hard to catch up. Jim Whiteley's blown Ynot Racing dragster was left on by the only A/Fuel car in the round, Johnny Ahten ran a 5.762/251 only to have Whiteley storm past with a winning 5.285/269.

Chris Demke managed the better leave in the final but his 5.511/251 was no match for the 5.435/268 charge from winner Jim Whiteley.

Top Alcohol Funny Car had another full field of good looking, hard running machines and again, taking it from the semis Doug Gordon managed the better leave on Bret Williamson's Team Eagle/Beams Automotive '01 Corvette, the 5.500/261 beat the troubled 9.111/87. The other pairing had Tony Bartone returning to alcohol Funny Car from time spent in the professional Funny Car ranks, it was a move well spent as his 5.609/256 with a holeshot plain beat the 5.635/257 from Ken Webster's beautiful Synoil Fluids Racing '08 Monte Carlo.

It turned out to be a Tony Bartone weekend and what a comeback to the class, he took the Centre Pointe Collision Ford to the event win as he chased down Doug Gordon's Morro Bay Cabinets Racing '07 Monte Carlo, a 5.530/259 beat the 5.618/261.

Competition Eliminator saw a twenty-four car round one with the final coming down to a race off between Dan Fletcher's orange and purple '08 Cobalt and the '07 Pontiac of Doug Lambeck. Lamback carded a good light but his 8.390/150 was chased down by Fletcher's 8.039/161 to take the win.

Super Stock home of the good looking high leaping machines had a huge entry and coming into the final pairing was Shane Studley in his '99 Dakota truck and Jimmy DeFrank in the '09 Cobalt. A better light and a 9.916/129 put Studley in his Precision Cylinder Heads black truck in the winners circle as DeFrank's California Car Duster backed car on an 8.569/156 became runner up.

Stock also had a large entry of machines and once again going into the final we had John Calvert in an '08 Mustang Cobra Jet up against Tom Gaynor in a yellow and purple '96 Firebird. A 10.136/126 from the Rice Holman Ford of John Calvert had the numbers as Gaynor red lit.

Super Gas always has some stunning vehicles and just such a one was the open top Race Tech Race Cars & Components '68 Camaro of Justin Lamb who came up against Thomas Bayer in the good looking Lucas Oil Products '62 Corvette for the final. A miniscule lead kept Lamb just ahead and his 9.907/158 tied up the win as the 9.906/153 from Bayer had to accept runner up place.

Text and photographs ©Roger Gorringe, Eurodragster.com

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