The NHRA kicked off its 2018 season with the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals two weeks ago. We gave you a recap of the top NHRA class winners here, but here’s a rundown of the Sportsman class winners.
(All images/Auto Imagery)
Super Gas – Kevin McClelland
As the son of legendary NHRA announcer Dave McClelland, Kevin McClelland is no newbie to drag racing. In fact, his Super Gas victory at the Winternationals earned him his fifth national-event Wally. “This is really special,” McClelland said. “I won this race 21 years ago at my very first national event, and it’s been an awesome run.”
McClelland used a .007-second reaction time with a 9.924 at 149.22 mph on the 9.90 index to defeat Phil Unruh’s .026 with a breakout 9.899 at 159.29.
Super Stock – Kyle Rizzoli
It was a close race decided by just .003-second that sent Kyle Rizzoli and his SS/CA 1969 Camaro to the Super Stock winner’s circle in Pomona. Both Rizzoli (.010-second) and GT/IA ’92 Cutlass driver Adam Emmer (.022) hit the mark at the tree, but it was Rizzoli who went on to score his sixth national event win with a 9.579 (9.56) at 133.55 to a 10.120 (10.11), 125.89.
“It’s always nerve-wracking pulling the cars out after a long off season, but it was a great race with a lot of great competition,” Rizzoli said. “Phoenix was my first race last year, and I won that one—so evidently, watch out for me at the first race of the year.”
Super Comp – Gabe Torres
The Winternationals Super Comp money round was historic as it marked the 13th brother-vs.-brother final in NHRA history. Gabriel Torres took the win over his brother, Val Jr., with a .035-second reaction time and 8.922 at 165.46 on the 8.90 index to a .024 and 8.941 at 176.26.
“This is awesome,” the younger Torres said, hoisting the trophy. “Me, my brother, my dad, we’re all so competitive. I knew it was going to be tough, and it could have gone either way [in the final], but we’re always on each other’s team. We have a little rivalry, but we always want each other to do good.”
Top Dragster – Steve Will
Top Dragster #1 qualifier Steve Will had been to the winner’s circle before in support of daughter and Top Fuel driver Hillary Will Hines, but this was dad’s first victory of his own at a national event.
“Words cannot describe this,” Will said, after defeating veteran racer Kyle Seipel in the final, 6.043 (6.01 dial) at 234.13 to 6.862 (6.81), 197.74. “I’m totally excited, and there are so many people to thank for helping me get to this point. I have to thank the fans for showing up. It makes it even more special.”
Stock Eliminator – Larry Gilley
The Stock final was an E/SA heads-up competition that pitted Larry Gilley and his ’69 Dodge Dart against Ryan Mangus in his ’70 Camaro. Gilley launched off the starting line in .009-second to Mangus’ .012 start to initiate a thrilling race. Gilley got there first with a 10.627, 121.27 win over a 10.664, 122.73.
“I’ve been dreaming my whole life of winning the Winternationals, and it finally came true,” Gilley said after winning his fourth career Wally. “[In a heads-up], you just let everything hang out on these things. You put the lightweight oil in there, you ice it down, you compensate for your reaction time because you know the car is going to leave harder. You just keep your foot on the floor and hope you’re the first one to the finish line. It was a great day.”
Comp Eliminator – Dan Fletcher
Auto Club Raceway at Pomona became the site of Dan Fletcher’s 103rd national event win at this year’s NHRA Winternationals. “I’m always on a mission, it’s just whether you get lucky and the Lord blesses you and you get the win, that’s all,” Fletcher said, following his victory over a red-lighting Clint Neff in the Competition Eliminator final. “This weekend it worked out. We were really fortunate, and we won. Our chances weren’t great, but there’s just so much luck involved in this. We got it done.”
Top Sportsman – Paul Mitsos
Don Meziere went red by .008-second and Paul Mitsos was declared the victor in the Top Sportsman final. The cherry on top was a clean 7.098-second pass at 191.21 mph in his purple ’08 Stratus. It was Mitsos’ second career final at the national event level, and the Eastvale, CA-resident was exuberant as he claimed his first win in front of a large group of family and friends.
“We’re back in a very big way,” Mitsos said, referring to both his program and the Mountain View Tire Pro Stock team comprised of his family and driver Vincent Nobile. “We’ve got a great team, and the same team behind Vincent is behind me—my dad, my mom, my brothers, my kids. This is unbelievable, getting my first win here at our home track.” His dad, Nick Mitsos, agreed.
“This is so gratifying,” Nick Mitsos said. “It’s absolutely amazing, and it makes me happy to see all the excitement we’ve created.”
Top Alcohol Funny Car – Shane Westerfield
Southern California native Shane Westerfield ended 2017 with the world championship in hand, and he continued his winning ways at the first race of the season.
The CP Carrillo-backed Top Alcohol Funny Car pilot left the starting line with a psychic .029-second reaction time and kept right on going for a 5.425, 269.67 win over Swede Ulf Leanders’ 5.508, 268.33.
Shawn Cowie – Top Alcohol Dragster
Aggressively testing in Phoenix prior to the Winternationals paid off for Top Alcohol Dragster driver Shawn Cowie, who scored his 11th national event win and second season-opener Wally with a defeat of Garrett Bateman.
Cowie surged ahead with a victorious 5.333, 277.03 as Bateman smoked the tires at the hit of the throttle.