The $15-million National Hot Rod Assn. drag racing series returns this weekend to the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds--where it all started with the Winternationals last February--for the season-closing Winston Finals.
The $937,400 event, which starts today with the first round of qualifying, will be highlighted by the closest funny car championship race in history. Three-time defending champion Kenny Bernstein of Newport Beach will bring a 240-point lead, 11,380 to 11,140, into the final event over former winner Mark Oswald of Cincinnati, with more than 1,100 points available to the driver who wins Sunday’s final elimination.
Bernstein, driving a red and white Buick Reatta, and Oswald, in a red and white Ford Thunderbird, will be going for a $150,000 champion’s bonus.
They swapped the series lead early in the season, then Bernstein moved to the front with a runner-up finish at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis on Labor Day.
Oswald had cut Bernstein’s margin to 82 points before last Sunday’s Fallnationals at Firebird Raceway in Chandler, Ariz., but a tense second-round match between the leaders helped Bernstein pad his lead. A win by Oswald would have put the 1984 champion in the lead.
Bernstein won with a 5.543-second run against Oswald’s 5.632, even though Oswald’s top speed of 267.30 m.p.h. was faster than the winner’s 264.93.
“Every single round will be so important,” Bernstein said. “This is about as close as it can get, and it’s going to be critical to gain every point we can.”
The closest funny car championship race before this year occurred in 1982 when Frank Hawley defeated Billy Meyer by 494 points. This week, Hawley will be back at Pomona, after a 4-year retirement, to drive a top fuel dragster for Larry Minor’s team from Hemet. Meyer, now president of the rival International Hot Rod Assn., will not be driving, but his funny car, an Oldsmobile Cutlass, will be entered for Dale Pulde of Sylmar.
The object Sunday for Bernstein and Oswald will be to avoid an early round loss. First-round losers receive 300 points, plus qualifying points. Quarterfinalists get 500-plus points, semifinal losers 700-plus, the runner-up 900-plus and the winner 1,100-plus. Bonus points are given for qualifying positions, from 32 for No. 1, then decreasing by 2 to 16th, which gets 2.
Fifty points are given the driver with the event’s low elapsed time for the quarter-mile and another 50 to the driver with the top speed.
Bernstein said: “We’re surprised to be leading, going into the final event, especially after winning only 3 times and losing 4 times in the first round, including 2 races (California and NorthStar Nationals) where we qualified No. 1 and set track records.”
Although he is not a championship contender, the hottest funny car driver at the moment is Mike Dunn of Ontario, who has driven his Olds Cutlass to victory in the last two NHRA events at Houston and Chandler, Ariz.
The top fuel championship will also be determined at Pomona, but 1984 champion Joe Amato of Old Forge, Pa., holds an apparently safe 1,032-point lead over fast-finishing Eddie Hill of Wichita Falls, Tex. Hill, a former boat drag racing champion, obliterated drag racing records with a 4.93-second run at the Supernationals 3 weeks ago in Houston and followed that with a win last Sunday in Phoenix.
Also at stake for the top fuelers will be the annual Crager race Saturday with eight drivers going for a $50,000 winner’s purse. Finalists are defending champion Amato, Darrell Gwynn, Dick LaHaie, Gene Snow, Hill, Gary Ormsby, Frank Bradley and Jack Ostrander. Former world champion Shirley Muldowney, who failed to make the field by a minuscule 45 points, is the first alternate.
Bob Glidden, nonpareil of pro stock drivers, has already wrapped up his record ninth championship by winning 7 races, starting with the Winternationals in February at Pomona. The veteran from Whiteland, Ind., has won 4 straight and has won 9 Winston Finals, including 3 of the last 4.
“Win 1 more race, that’s it,” Glidden said of Pomona after clinching the $100,000 season championship bonus at Houston in a new car. In a surprising mid-season switch, Glidden replaced his familiar Thunderbird with a sleek Ford Probe and responded by setting the quickest time in NHRA pro stock history of 7.277 seconds.
“We hope to have the Probe running just a little quicker than it did in Houston,” he added.
The first round of qualifying will be held today at 2 p.m., with other sessions at 2 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday. Eliminations will start at 11 a.m. Sunday.
The standings after 15 of 16 events:
TOP FUEL--1. Joe Amato (Old Forge, Pa.), 13,472; 2. Eddie Hill (Wichita Falls, Tex.), 12,440; 3. Darrell Gwynn (Miami), 11.946; 4. Gene Snow (Fort Worth, Tex.), 9,736; 5. Dick LaHaie (Lansing, Mich.), 8,706; 6. Frank Bradley (Orange), 7,454; 7. Gary Ormsby (Roseville, Calif.), 7.070; 8. Dennis Forcelle (Minneapolis), 5,770; 9. Shirley Muldowney (Mt. Clemens, Mich.), 5,272; 10. Jack Ostrander (Pontiac, Mich.), 5,126.
FUNNY CAR--1. Kenny Bernstein (Newport Beach), Buick Reatta, 11,320; 2. Mark Oswald (Cincinnati), Ford Thunderbird, 11,140; 3. John Force (Yorba Linda), Olds Cutlass, 10,206; 4. Don Prudhomme (Granada Hills), Pontiac Trans-Am, 9,626; 5. Ed McCulloch (Hemet), Cutlass, 9,226; 6. Bruce Larson (Dauphin, Pa.), Cutlass, 8,860; 7. Mike Dunn (Ontario), Cutlass, 6,602; 8. Johnny West (Chandler, Ariz.), Dodge Daytona, 6,756; 9. Dale Pulde (Sylmar), Cutlass, 5,652; 10. Scott Kalitta (Ypsilanti, Mich.), Cutlass, 5.054.
PRO STOCK--1. Bob Glidden (Whiteland, Ind.), Ford Probe, 13,686; 2. Warren Johnson (Duluth, Ga.), Olds Ciera, 10.152; 3. Tony Christian (Sarasota, Fla.), Chevy Beretta, 9,510; 4. Bruce Allen (Arlington, Tex.), Beretta, 8,722; 5. Butch Leal (Blacklick, Ohio), Trans-Am, 8,354; 6. Jerry Eckman (Ventura), Trans-Am, 7,732; 7. Morris Johnson Jr. (Richmond, Va.), Trans-Am, 7,028; 8. Kenny Davis (Centereach, N.Y.), Trans-Am, 6,804; 9. Mark Pawuk (Medina, Ohio), Trans-Am, 5,902; 10. Harry Scribner (Simi Valley), Chevy Camaro, 5,876.
SPRINT CARS--After running last week in Phoenix as part of the Western World championships, the Parnelli Jones Firestone/California Racing Assn. series returns to Ascot Park for a 30-lap main event Saturday night. Lealand McSpadden won the CRA event, but Ron Shuman expanded his lead over Mike Sweeney to an almost unbeatable 187 points when he finished second and Sweeney failed to finish. Only 4 races remain with 340 points available. In addition to his Friday night CRA win, McSpadden also won a preliminary main event for winged cars on Thursday and took top spot in the midget of Arizona main event on Friday and finished 10th in Saturday’s main event.
STOCK CARS--Hobby and mini-stocks will race Friday night at Ventura Raceway. . . . Racing also continues Saturday night at the Orange Show Stadium in San Bernardino where the season will close Nov. 5.
MOTOCROSS--The Continental Motosports Club, which has held motocross at Ascot Park for 20 seasons, will produce two more shows on the nation’s oldest night MX course the next two Friday nights. The Nov. 4 event will be the sixth annual Night Nationals. Ron Turner of Lomita will be favored to win both the 125cc and 250cc championships.
ROAD RACING--After a lapse of 34 years, the original 2,000-mile Pan American Mexican road race will be recreated this week with about 100 driver-car combinations starting Friday from Tuxtla Gutierrez, near the Guatemalan border, for an 8-day odyssey that will end Nov. 4 in Juarez.
The cars are pre-1955 models. Among the entries are Loyal Truesdale, Walt Ritchie and Bill Nation of Hollywood in a ’53 Hudson Hornet; Art Evans of Redondo Beach in a ’54 Lincoln; Cliff Carr and Pete Myers of Santa Barbara in a ’50 Olds; Charles Rau and Lucy Looney of Huntington Beach in a ’54 Chevy; Daniel Starc of La Jolla in a ’54 Mercury; Frank Danielson and Jon Mandell of Palos Verdes in a ’55 Buick; Jeff Karr of Los Angeles in a ’51 Cadillac; Douglas Mockett of Redondo Beach in a ’54 Lincoln; Felix Vargan and Craig Stevens of Redondo Beach in a ’53 Porsche; and Ron Weir, Jim Arnold and Ricardo Porta of Huntington Beach in a ’54 Chrysler.