The first event of the 2013 NHRA Drag Racing season opened at the famed Auto Club of Southern California Raceway at the Los Angeles County Fairplex in Pomona from Feb. 14 to 17.
The drag racing series is now known as the Mello-Yellow drag racing series, but it is anything but mellow. With racing engines in the top two categories producing upwards of 10,000 horsepower, fueled by an explosive rocket fuel called nitromethane (often referred to as nitro), these sophisticated race cars can reach speeds in excess of 330 miles per hour in less than four seconds. The Pro Stock category features specially built cars, similar to their show room versions found at car dealer ships, that run on gasoline and produce close to 1300 HP. These highly technical race cars reach speeds in excess of 210 mph in about 6.5 seconds. Raw, exciting and thunderous with total sensory over-load might be a better description for NHRA drag racing.
The event featured several hair raising incidents involving four racers, including one of last seasons champions. Tony Pedregon exploded an engine in a large fireball during the first round of qualifying on Thursday, sending his funny car body flying high into the air. Following a number one position qualifying effort on Thursday, Gary Densham, a retired high school shop teacher, went off the end of the race track into the sand trap after completing his initial qualifying effort of 4.053 seconds at 307.09 mph when his parachutes failed to deploy. Top Fuel racer Tony Schumacher went into the sand trap when his parachutes deployed late, following his (what would then be the top qualifying spot) 3.758 second run at 328.14 mph. None of these drivers were injured in any of these incidents. The 4th incident involved the 2012 season series Top Fuel Champion, Antron Brown. During a second round eliminations run (in which he was he winner), his engine exploded into a large fireball, sending parts and pieces everywhere. The concussion from the explosion was so loud, it could be clearly heard and felt several hundred feet away. The flying parts caused the rear tires to simultaneously explode and come off the car, rotating the rear of the car around and sending it on its side into rearward collision with the wall in the opposite lane with its driver strapped in for the ride. The car then careened back across the track, contacting the other retaining wall, in the lane which had he started in. The car then continued to slide down the track into the sand pit on its side. The race fans that filled the grandstands, were in anxious silence, waiting for the word on Antron’s condition. Miraculously, Antron Brown was able to get out of the heavily damaged race car, suffering only minor bruises to the standing cheers from all the fans. The new safety canopy, developed for these dragsters and the rigid safety standards developed by the NHRA, helped to keep the popular driver safe.
The on-track racing was amazing, throughout the weekend, with near record performances occurring in all three of the professional categories contested (Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock). At the completion of qualifying, on Saturday, Tony Schumacher held the number one spot in Top Fuel, with a 3.753 second elapse time. Courtney Force (the 2012 “rookie of the year”) led the Funny Car category with a 4.036 effort and Mike Edwards led the Pro Stock field with a strong 6.528 second elapse time.
On race day, the fans were treated to some of the best racing seen in the sport. Until Antron’s second round incident, everything went flawless, with some very close side by side racing. When the “dust settled”, it would be the two Dodge Avengers of Jeg Coughlin and Vincent Nobile squaring off in the final round of the Pro Stock category. After both drivers found themselves having problems keeping their cars running and having to restart them, Vincent Nobile picked up the win with a strong 6.584 at 210.05 to (a quicker) 6.571 at 211.03 effort, when Jeg Coughlin left too soon and “fouled out”. In Funny Car the popular daughter of 15-Time Champion John Force, young Courtney Force and her TRAXXAS Ford Mustang met up against four-time season series runner-up Ron Capps and his NAPA Dodge Charger. Ron, who had gained lane choice (based on a better performance) the previous round, tried to shake up the 2012 “rookie of the year”, by moving her from her “preferred” left lane into the right lane. Courtney quickly showed why she is rapidly becoming another “Force to be Reckoned with”, as she left the starting line just a mere 0.005 seconds behind Ron Capps. She over took Ron at about 60 feet, when his car started to lose traction. The young lady (Courtney Force) kept her 10000 horse power race car “dead center” in her lane and drove away to her second career Funny Car event win, setting low elapse time of the event and top speed (for Funny Cars) at 4.025 seconds and 318.24 mph. Top Fuel would close the show with 7-time Top Fuel Series Champion, Tony Schumacher squaring off against the up and coming Shawn Langdon. Shawn came into the final round with lane choice, based on the previous round performance of 3.749 seconds. He also was credited with the low elapse time of the event, with his 2nd round victory lap of 3.738 seconds. Tony Schumacher (the “Sarge” as he is affectionately nicknamed, based on his US Army sponsorship and the promotional work he does for the United States Army) was functioning like a “driving machine of consistency” with seemingly effortless 3.75 second runs. Up until the semi final round, where he was to race against his team mate Antron Brown, Tony looked like the driver to beat. Due to Antron’s accident, he was a “no show” against Tony, giving a Tony a solo run into the final round. In an effort to secure lane choice for the final round, he over powered the track and had to settle for an early shut off 6.465 second elapse time, conceding the lane choice to Langdon. In the final, Shawn Langdon “drilled” Tony Schumacher on the tree with a 0.011 to 0.042 reaction time advantage. He then simply drove away to a 3.721 at 322.27 mph to 3.747 at 324.12 mph victory as the hot exhaust from their engines lit up the early evening sky.
With the conclusion of the season opening O’Reilly Part Winter Nationals, the season series moves on to Phoenix, Arizona for the Arizona Nationals for the 2nd race on the 24-race NHRA Mello-Yellow racing series schedule.
Oakdale Leader correspondents Mike and Jeff Burghardt contributed to this report.