NHRA Winternationals at Pomona, California

Top Qualifiers Hold on for Wins

John Force caused a few sparks to fly off the track also.

The top qualifiers held on to their top of the class spots and went on to win all three professional classes at the season opening NHRA Winternationals at the Pomona Fairplex on Feb. 12.

Controversy erupted when mega team owners John Force and Don Schumacher had words, with Schumacher later accusing Force of spending so much money for his crew chiefs as to price other teams out of competition. The two have had a long-standing rivalry that had to have been fueled even more by the back and forth of crew chiefs Jimmy Prock, John Medlen, Chris Cunningham, and Dean “Guido” Antonelli.

"Anytime we can put those Forces on the trailer that's what we need to do,” said Matt Hagan after the race. “We're here to win and Don expects us to win."

This certainly promises to add a bit of drama to the racing this season.


On Sunday, Leah Pritchett was in the cockpit of Don Schumacher Racing's 11,000-horsepower Papa John's Pizza dragster, and after winning her team's second pole in five events going back to the past season, she drove to her second Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event title in less than one year and first with DSR when she beat veteran Doug Kalitta in the final round.

Pritchett was also the first female No. 1 qualifier in Top Fuel at the Winternationals since the legendary Shirley Muldowney accomplished the feat in 1977.

Pritchett with crew chief Todd Okuhara and assistant Joe Barlam defeated Steve Torrence (3.707/324.44 to 3.755/328.22) and eight-time champion Tony Schumacher (3.687/327.43 to 3.727/327.35) en route to the finals. Kalitta was off the line first but went up in smoke at the hit of the throttle. Pritchett had a bye in the first round due to a short 15-car Top Fuel field.

"You've got to have confidence if you're going to run one of these beasts and confidence is contagious," said Pritchett, who won her second NHRA Wally Trophy in less than a year. "Todd and Joe have confidence in the car and that's contagious to me as a driver and our whole Papa John's team. That's how we're jelling so well."