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Winternationals In Summer Heat Throws Obstacles At Race Teams
Notching a victory in the Top Fuel category, Leah Pruett prevailed on a hot track and tricky conditions for racing teams over the weekend in Pomona. Photo By Mike Burghardt

Steve Torrence came in with a chance to go into the NHRA history books. If he won Top Fuel at the NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals, he would become the first driver to win the western swing in Top Fuel since Antron Brown accomplished the feat in 2009. Normally the western tour consists of Denver, Sonoma and Seattle in one three-week period. Due to the COVID-19 situation, the Seattle event was cancelled and moved to the famed Pomona (LA County Fairplex) Raceway facility. The Winternationals is normally contested at this location, as the season opener in February. But, the event was postponed until the end of July/beginning of August. But the time frame brought new challenges to the race teams. Instead of the normally cool and pleasant weather conditions that often led to strong performances, it was hot conditions that threw serious obstacles at each of the crew chiefs. To add to the challenges, qualifying (three sessions total) was done during evening hours, after the hot sun baked the track. Race day was then run during the daylight (heat of the day hours). This made it difficult for tuners to hit on a successful tuning scheme.

In Top Fuel, the Torrence Capco team had their eyes on the prize, a clean sweep of the western swing. But, like rival Brittany Force, they had to get into the field on their last qualifying attempt. Force took the top spot with a 3.714 at 330.72 mph and Torrence took the fourth spot with a 3.808 at 322.27 mph. In between them was Leah Pruett (second) and her Sparkling Ice Spiked Hard Seltzer team at 3.780 at 321.88 mph and Mike Salinas (third), with the Blaine Johnson tribute car coming in with a 3.790 at 318.09 mph. In the opening round, Torrence was taken out by Antron Brown 3.834 at 318.14 mph to 4.472 at 197.10 mph, to end the chances of a Torrence sweep. By the end of round two, Force was done. In the semifinals, Pruett dispatched with Salinas to march in the final round against Justin Ashley, the 2020 season NHRA Rookie of the Year. Unfortunately, the hot temperatures got to Ashley and he had to exit his race car due to heat stress symptoms. He was successfully treated at the track and released, but Pruett took her second career NHRA Winternationals Top Fuel win on a single run.

In Funny Car, it was Ron Capps and his Napa Auto Parts/DSR team that had the stamina and consistency needed to claim victory. He qualified in the top spot with a 3.941 at 321.35 mph effort. Capps then dispatched with Bobby Bode, Bob Tasca III and John Force to advance to a final round match up against J.R. Todd and his DHL Kalitta Motorsport Toyota team. Capps used a 4.151 at 297.75 mph to 4.289 at 286.56 mph performance on the hot (140-plus degree) racetrack, to collect his fourth Winternationals Funny Car win and take the 2021 season series point lead.

In Pro Stock, Greg Anderson has been chasing his 97th career Pro Stock win, in an effort to tie the legend, Warren Johnson. But, for the second race in a row, Aaron Stanfield denied him in the final round. Stanfield left first (0.016 to 0.042) and drove away to a 6.652 at 207.69 mph to 6.660 at 207.08 mph victory.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Matt Smith and his DENSO Buell team are the class of the field, as he marched into the final round from his number one qualifying position. In the final, he would square off against three-time NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle season champion, Angelle Sampey.

Sampey rides a Vance and Hines Suzuki and is rapidly getting it into competitive form. Smith would not be denied his 30th career win, though, as he got away first (0.042 to 0.102) and stormed to a 6.828 at 199.52 mph to 6.911 at 173.96 mph victory.

The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series next visits Heartland Motor Sports Park in Topeka, Kansas in mid-August.

In the Funny Car finals at Pomona, Ron Capps in his Napa Auto Parts car captured the victory over JR Todd and took over the season points lead in the process. Photo By Mike Burghardt