02034-20220220 Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals-Auto Club Raceway at Pomona-24-240mm-R3

Exclusive first photos! Drag racing Toyota’s new GR Supra at 2022 NHRA Winternationals

VISCERAL. Merriam-Webster online (my go-to dictionary) defines this word as “felt in or as if in the internal organs of the body.” Remember this word as you continue to read about the 2022 Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals Presented By ProtectTheHarvest.com at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

In all of my 20 years covering motorsports for “AutoMatters & More,” I have never covered NHRA drag racing. The last time I attended an NHRA drag race must have been at least ten or 20 years ago, here in Pomona, but with some car club friends on a Friday. We visited the pits and the fan-oriented exhibits, and sat in the grandstands where I probably marveled at how loud the cars were and how the grandstands shook.

However, by far my most powerful and lasting memory of that event was when I nudged my way forward into a crowd gathered at the entrance to one of the team’s pits as they ran the engine. I distinctly remember wondering why the crew members were wearing monstrous gas masks — but I did not have to wonder for long as I took a deep breath of what I assume was highly noxious nitromethane fuel. Suddenly I experienced a painful burning sensation in my lungs! Whoa! Never again would I be so ignorant as to do that.

Note the gas masks that are being worn.
The race fans got to walk the drag strip as a group.

Last weekend represented part two of my visceral NHRA drag racing experience. Unlike before, this time I had arranged for a Press Credential and a Press Photo vest, just like I do when I cover NASCAR, IndyCar and other professional motorsports series. Furthermore, my first (and only) day shooting the races was Sunday, when the competition was for all of the marbles. The competitors would not be holding anything back, as the best-of-the-best squared off in their final elimination rounds.

Please believe me when I tell you that television does not begin to convey the sensations of actually being there in person, especially standing right beside the wall as 11,000-horsepower racing cars accelerate past you to speeds of over 300 mph! Visceral is the best way that I can describe the experience, as you feel it pass violently throughout your body.

Imagine this. There I was, standing beside the track with one of my Canon EOS R3 cameras pointed at the two Top Fuel dragsters staging for their imminent race. Bright blue light at the top of the Christmas Tree quickly flashed, which got my attention, followed by three amber lights, and then BANG! Almost simultaneously with the lighting of the green light, and in less than the blink of an eye, the duo of cars reached me, shaking the ground like a violent, deafening earthquake, and shaking my hearing protection headphones from what I thought was their secure position over my floppy, wide-brimmed hat (it works for other race series). I tried to press the track-side headphone hard against my head, to try to stop the violent pressure changes in that ear, as I simultaneously tried to one-hand my heavy professional camera while rotating my body to try to follow the cars as they passed, and went down the track into the distance.

Needless to say, those first photos were not my best of the day — by far. Also, I moved my hearing protection headphones from over my soft, floppy, wide-brimmed hat to underneath it, where their foam pads would more effectively seal against the noise. At that point I could only hope that my eardrums had not blown out. My ears are faintly ringing as I am writing this, several days later, but I don’t think that is new. I’m 68 and my body has begun to show its age.

That was an experience that I surely will never forget. To truly experience NHRA drag racing, you must go to an event in-person.

This event marked the NHRA racing debut of Toyota’s brand new 11,000 hp GR Supra Funny Car. After its five years of development, this car is state-of-the-art. Listen to those who know this car and you will learn that one major advantage that this new car has over the competition is its steeper windshield angle and related driver position, for much improved outward visibility.

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Toyota drivers represented a who’s who of drag racing supremacy: J.R. Todd, Shawn Langdon, Alexis Dejoria and Antron Brown.

After the racing was over, several of the winning drivers were introduced, surrounded by fans on the drag strip.

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It was there we got yet another unique experience: walking on the stickiest traction compound you can possibly imagine. Flip-flops would have come off immediately!

Walking on the drag strip is like walking in quicksand. If your shoe laces are not tied, you will step out of your shoes!

For raceday Sunday notes, visit: https://www.nhra.com/news/2022/lucas-oil-nhra-winternationals-sunday-news-notes. For results, visit: https://www.nhra.com/results/2022/nhra-camping-world-drag-racing-series/52001

The 2022 Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals Presented By ProtectTheHarvest.com was the kickoff event for the 2022 season. The season will wrap up back at Pomona in November. I hope to be there and take photos in the darkness on Saturday, to show the flames shooting from the exhaust pipes.

Copyright © 2022 by Jan Wagner – AutoMatters & More #730

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Jan Wagner

4 Comments

  1. Alberto on March 22, 2022 at 10:37 pm

    GREAT article & photos

    • Jan Wagner on March 22, 2022 at 10:42 pm

      Thank you, Alberto!
      You may have noticed that my photos are missing from columns from about June of 2021 to late January 2022. That was due to a technical error. The good news is that I still have the photos and have begun replacing them in the columns.

  2. David Sperry on March 22, 2022 at 10:56 pm

    Jan, speaking not too viscerally, drag racing is a motor sport I don’t follow closely, but you brought it to life in this fine article. I especially liked those photos of the official checking the track conditions, like he was a surgeon ready to perform brain surgery. I can imagine being there in person was super special… the mixed smells of oil, rubber and those noxious fuels. Great work!

    • Jan Wagner on March 22, 2022 at 11:09 pm

      Thanks David!
      Now I need to figure out how to capture and convey the brutal acceleration of drag racers. They accelerate so quickly that I could barely keep up with them. It was all I could do to keep pointing my camera at them and keep them in focus as they accelerated to me and then past. With slower-accelerating racecars (like F-1, IndyCars and NASCAR!) I can pan with them at a much slower speed, so I can use slow shutter speeds to blur the background. Shooting dragsters is a whole other thing. The next chance I’ll get to try will be the season-ending race in Pomona — maybe.
      Jan

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