Author: Burgess, Phil
Date published: February 10, 2012
Ever since I was old enough to drive, this time of year has always been special. Fortunate to have been raised in Southern California, late January/early February always meant one thing to me: the Winternationals. The start of each new NHRA season was a time of wonder and excitement, anticipation and exhilaration.
Back in the 1970s, there was no Internet to keep fans informed of the latest developments, and National DRAGSTER was your best preview of what to expect when you rolled through the gates in Pomona each year, but even ND couldn't keep pace with all of the new-car news. Back then, car owners changed drivers frequently, and you were never sure who might be behind the wheel of a car when the season kicked off.
The one thing that you could be certain of was a pit area full of exciting new paint schemes, body styles, and sponsors, and even as an amateur photo bug, I'd burn through more film than I had the money to have processed trying to capture all of the glory and glamour. It was fun trying to keep abreast of all of the changes in the lineup and to learn to identify from afar if necessary who was coming to the line.
In more recent times, driver and sponsor (and paint-scheme) loyalty had reached a new point of predictability, and, to be honest, that part of the new-season buzz had diminished for me. Oh, sure, there was always still the thrill of seeing the first chapter of a new season being written, but I missed the armchair quarterbacking about choices made of new drivers in new cars with new crew chiefs and what might transpire.
All of this is the reason I'm so revved up for this year's 52nd annual O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Super Start Batteries, which features the most driver swaps I can remember in decades and so many story lines that I can barely keep my pen full of ink. Two new drivers for the two-time defending NHRA Full Throttle Top Fuel championship Al-Anabi team, including a stone nitro rookie in Khalid alBalooshi. Courtney Force's nitro Funny Car debut. The beginning of Alexis DeJoria's first full season and Del Worsham's nitro-tuning debut. Brandon Bernstein driving for someone other than his dad. A new shoe and sponsor for S°Cal fan favorite Jim Dunn. New paint for defending Funny Car champ Matt Hagan and teammate Johnny Gray. Cory McClenathan reteaming with Santo Rapisarda. "Hot Rod" Fuller driving for Dexter Tuttle. The return of Jeg Coughlin Jr. in Pro Stock. Man, I can hardly wait. This has been one of the most active off-seasons I can remember, and I know that many of you are equally excited.
There's a great season ahead of us, and your pals here at National DRAGSTER are excited about exploring new ways to share the news with you. We've got a few new wrinkles to our event-coverage format that you'll see here in two weeks, and we're working hard at developing the kinds of stories and presentations you'll look forward each week to reading; I'd love to hear from any of you with ideas and suggestions about what would make your weekly reading even more enjoyable.
In addition to our exhaustive season preview and our traditional preview-issue package - including Tricky Tipster's first picks of the season - I hope you'll enjoy John Jodauga's comprehensive look back at Super Stock racing and my retrospective on the Force family on the eve of Courtney's debut. There's also plenty of good and fun stuff again in Bits from the Pits to help get you up to speed and bring a smile to your face ... as if you didn't already have one with the season getting ready to start.
Off to Pomona. First the first pair! ND