POMONA, Calif. — As the National Hot Rod Ass’n embarks on its 60th season, its competitors will be looking to add their names to the ranks of NHRA’s legends when the 2011 campaign kicks off this weekend during the 51st annual Kragen O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
Defending series champions Larry Dixon, John Force and Greg Anderson return to Pomona just three months after being crowned 2010 titlists in their respective categories during the season-ending Auto Club NHRA Finals in November. But for Dixon, who captured his third Top Fuel championship last season with 12 victories, including last year’s golden anniversary of the Winternationals, Pomona marks an entirely new season for he and his Al-Anabi Racing team.
“Having the No. 1 on our wing this year is a proud accomplishment, but it’s not something I’m looking back on. I’m looking forward; forward to making that first run down the track and forward to getting our Al-Anabi car qualified for the Winternationals,” said Dixon. “It’s kind of a vanilla approach, but what happened last year is in the past, and we are looking forward into 2011 and not so much reminiscing on what happened last year. It’s a new year; nobody has any points and we’re ready to start working on that.”
Meanwhile Force returns to Pomona as not only the defending event winner, like Dixon, but after narrowly clinching his record 15th Funny Car title over runner-up Matt Hagan in November. Some off-season shuffling has the 61-year-old Force driving daughter Ashley Force Hood’s Castrol GTX Mustang in 2011 as the second-generation racer and husband, Dan, await the birth of their first child this summer; Mike Neff, who helped tune Force to the title in 2010, returns to the driver’s seat in Force’s Funny Car. Despite the changes within John Force Racing over the winter, Force is focused on earning his 133rd-career Wally and his fifth Winternationals victory at Pomona, a track that has seen the iconic racer win a record 105 rounds of competition during his career.
Like Dixon and Force, 2010 Pro Stock champion Anderson advanced to the final round during last year’s season-opening Winternationals but fell short to then-defending class champion Mike Edwards. Nine months later, though, Anderson was hoisting a different Wally in Pomona after earning his fourth class title and the fifth for KB Racing. Anderson heads to this year’s Winternationals as a track record holder for top Pro Stock elapsed time and as a four-time event winner.
Qualifying for the 51st annual Kragen O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals gets underway Thursday at 1 p.m. PST with additional sessions Friday and Saturday. Eliminations begin Sunday at 11 a.m. local time.
LAST YEAR: In the 50th edition of the Winternationals, Larry Dixon began what would be an impressive streak of 12 perfect final-round appearances with a narrow defeat over Doug Kalitta in the Top Fuel finale. The win, Dixon’s 49th, tied him on the all-time win list with his former team owner, Don Prudhomme. In Funny Car, John Force snapped a 39-race winless streak, barely edging Ron Capps for the Wally. It was the first of six triumphs for Force en route to claiming his 15th Funny Car title at Pomona in November. Mike Edwards began his Pro Stock title defense, running down former champ Greg Anderson in the final round for the victory.
TRACK RECORDS: Top Fuel: 3.772 seconds, Tony Schumacher, November 2009; 322.88 mph, Tony Schumacher, November 2010…Funny Car: 4.037 seconds, Robert Hight, February 2009; 312.86 mph, Robert Hight, February 2010…Pro Stock: 6.528 seconds, Greg Anderson, February 2009; 211.63 mph, Jason Line, February 2009.