Third time finally the charm for Big Go West
Reprinted from the March 1973 issue of National DRAGSTER
NHRA WINTERNATIONALS -- After two disappointing weekends of postponement, the third time was the charm for the National Hot Rod Association as the 13th annual Winternationals were finally completed under the most glorious of weather conditions. Despite the twice-postponed finals, the combined attendance for Sunday's eliminations compared favorably with previous years, and the assembled multitude was witness to a display of drag racing ability to the hilt, as the unpredictable Pomona track surface demanded the utmost in driving and tuning skills.
In the three Pro categories, it was definitely a day for veterans, as the three Dons -- Garlits, Schumacher, and Nicholson -- prevailed in their respective categories. Garlits picked up his first NHRA Top Fuel title at Pomona a decade ago, and has since gone on to become the winningest-ever driver for the class. Likewise for Schumacher, whose Winternationals win moved him into a tie with Ed McCulloch for the most NHRA titles in the unpredictable world of Funny Cars at five. Nicholson, the oldest of the trio at 45, first gained fame at Pomona at the inaugural event, copping Super Stock honors back in 1961! Between them, they have won no less than 19 NHRA titles!
Competition Eliminator honors were scooped up by lanky Steve Woods for the second straight year, while the all-conquering Rod Shop Dodge of Bob Riffle annexed Modified Eliminator honors.
The only newcomers to the NHRA winner's circle came from the Stock ranks, as the Northwest town of Eugene, Oregon produced not one, but two titlists. Paul Smith and his SS/V '55 Chevy ended Judy Lilly's bid to repeat her Super Stock Eliminator win when he dipped to a sub-record 13.53 to end the Colorado housewife's bid to become the only multiple title-winning female, and Les Young drove around the little Vega panel of Indiana's George Williams with a record-setting 15.62 to claim Stock Eliminator honors.
Garlits' final victim was none other than Dennis Baca, who found himself in an identical position as the year before. Like in '72, when he went up in smoke against Carl Olson, the Walnut Creek, California driver lost traction in the all-or-nothing final run. However, it was the Floridan's race from the start. Round after round, Garlits racked up the best clockings of the event, culminating with both Low E.T. and Top Speed of the Meet honors. Garlits hit a 6.51 pace to dispose of Canadian Terry Capp in the second round, and stormed to a 235.60 mph clip in the final against Baca.
Schumacher too carded the best performances for his class, but waited until the last to unleash a 7.18, 220.58 torrent against Texan Kenny Bernstein, whose starting-line advantage evaporated quickly when Ray Alley's Engine Masters Charger tossed a blower belt at the 300-foot mark. "The Shoe's" final clocking matched Butch Maas' 7.18 qualifying blast for Low E.T. (but the honors go to Maas due to turning it first) while easily claiming the Top Speed of the Meet plaudits.
"Dyno Don" Nicholson too saved his best for last, as the veteran Ford campaigner pounded out a 9.33 for Pro Stock honors and a new NHRA National Record, eclipsing the 9.34 mark set only an hour before by Don Carlton and the new "MoPar Missile" Plymouth Duster. Carlton, who had gone as quick as 9.22 in time trials, slowed to a tractionless 9.64 in the finale, while the "Dyno Man" clicked off his aforementioned 9.33 for an estimated $14,600 payoff.
Other highlights at the Winternationals included Dave Anderson piloting Tony Fox's "Pollution Packer" to a phenomenal 5.35, 297 mph clocking, and the wheelstanding VW of Chuck Poole, motorcycle stuntman extraordinary Lee Irons, and the Dana "Project Rotary" dragster.