Those of us who eschew NASCAR for real speed – as in drag racing – welcome this weekend's season-opening Winternationals event at Pomona. The Glendora-based NHRA introduces a new points system this year, but the real excitement should come on the track. As Martin Henderson points out in today's Times, 24-year-old Ashley Force will compete in funny car alongside her father, Yorba Linda-based John, the sport's winningest driver.
No doubt, the attention Ashley receives comes from 1) her family name and 2) her looks. She's drag racing's answer to Danica Patrick, and NHRA officials hope (pray?) that her presence will help NHRA escape from the shadows of NASCAR and IndyCar. Henderson quotes NHRA president Tom Compton as saying, "[Ashley Force's presence] may very well be a significant point in the history of the NHRA."
Don't expect Ashley to win right away –- the funny car field is loaded with talent (including John Force, the defending champ, and Ron Capps). But it's the return of "The King" -- Kenny Bernstein -- who will bring yet another, ahem, force to funny car. When Bernstein retired in 2002, at age 58, he ranked fourth all-time with 69 wins (39 in top fuel and 30 in funny car). But a funny thing happened on the way to the rocking chair: Bernstein found he missed the mano-a-mano duels at 330-miles-an-hour. Late last year, the Orange County-based Bernstein confirmed the worst-kept secret in drag racing circles and announced that he was returning to competition. In a sport that relies on ultra-quick hand-eye-foot reflexes – races last all of about 4.7 seconds – he'll test his skills against competitors half his age. (Ironically, Bernstein's chief sponsor is energy-drink Monster, a decidedly young man's beverage.)
The NHRA circuit runs into November, with the season-ending finale in, natch, Pomona.