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NHRA drag-racing season opens with Winternationals in Pomona

Hight

Big-league drag racing kicks off its season with the Winternationals this weekend in Pomona as the National Hot Rod Assn. celebrates its 60th anniversary.

In the sport’s premier top-fuel class, where the cars routinely exceed 300 mph, a key question is who might provide an early challenge for Larry Dixon and his Al-Anabi Racing team, which ran away with the championship in 2010.

Although Dixon won 12 times last season, including the Winternationals a year ago, Tony Schumacher expects to provide stiff competition in 2011. Schumacher had won six consecutive top-fuel titles and seven overall until Dixon snapped his streak last year and earned his third championship.

“We’re all going to have to step it up this year if we’re going to chase [Dixon] down,” Schumacher said. “If you win the Winternationals, it’s a great way to get the ball rolling.”

And in the funny-car class, the other elite division in the NHRA’s Full Throttle Series, 61-year-old John Force returns after his improbable victory in the series finale at Pomona last November that gave the funny-car legend an unprecedented 15th title. Force also is the defending winner of the Winternationals.

Robert Hight, another member of Force’s team and Force’s son-in-law, won four races last year after capturing the funny-car championship in 2009.

“Seeing John Force win his 15th championship was great but I joked with him in December that now I am 14 championships behind him again,” Hight said.

One of Force’s daughters, Ashley Force Hood, also drives for Force's Yorba Linda-based team and is one of the NHRA’s most popular drivers. But she’s pregnant and not competing this season. Mike Neff is taking her place.

Greg Anderson is the defending champion in the pro stock category.

The Kragen O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals open Thursday at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona with the first of three days of qualifying.

Various classes of dragsters run throughout the day, but qualifying for the premier top-fuel and funny-car classes starts at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday and Friday and at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday. Final eliminations start at 11 a.m. on Sunday.

-- Jim Peltz

Photo: NHRA funny-car driver Robert Hight during qualifying in the Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona on Feb. 13, 2010. Credit: Jennifer Stewart / US Presswire

 
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