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The 1960s: Drag Racing Legends Are Born
 
After six years of staging just one national event, the nomadic NHRA Nationals, throughout the Midwest, NHRA officials decided to add a second national event to the schedule for 1961, and they couldn’t have picked a better location for race-starved California competitors and fans in what many considered the birthplace of the sport.

The Pomona facility, on the west side of the L.A. County Fairgrounds, had been in long use for years before — it hosted NHRA’s first sanctioned race in 1953 — and proved the perfect home for what would become NHRA’s annual season opener for the next 50 years and beyond.
           
Although the facility then looked little as it does today, the white banner stretching over the starting line at the first Winternationals in 1961 was the original in a long line of evolving and well-recognized versions that continued to be an iconic part of the event until 1993, when it was retired because it blocked the view from the new tower suites behind the starting line.    
 
With an airfoil atop the engine of Swamp Rat V to provide needed downforce, Don Garlits scored his first NHRA national event win at the 1963 event.
Racers whose names would become legend dominated the event’s formative years. Don Garlits, Don Prudhomme, Bill Jenkins, Jack Chrisman, and Don Nicholson earned their first NHRA national event wins, and the first decade was chock-full of indelible moments.
           
Chrisman enjoyed a significant moment in his historic career by scoring Top Eliminator honors at the first event with Jerry Johansen’s twin-Chevy-powered Howard Cam Special; Mickey Thompson, who fielded five dragsters and several stockers at the event, triumphed in Middle; and Nicholson won Stock with his 409 Chevrolet. Nicholson won Stock the next year and was runner-up in Factory Stock in 1964 to another burgeoning legend, Ronnie Sox.
           
Garlits scored the first of his 35 NHRA wins with a revolutionary winged Swamp Rat V dragster at the 1963 event, which marked the return of nitromethane to the sport after a several-year ban. Garlits shattered the track e.t. record of 8.50 with an 8.11 and defeated fellow Florida campaigner and future partner Art Malone in the final.
           
Prudhomme in Top Fuel and Jenkins in Pro Stock scored the first of many in their legendary careers at the 1965 event, the “one-day wonder,” at which class eliminations, qualifying, and competition in seven eliminators — 3,168 runs — were squeezed into a 10-hour window after a combination of excessive fog Friday and rain all day Saturday forced the event to be run in its entirety Sunday.
           
Don Prudhomme collected his first of 49 career wins at the wheel of Roland Leong's Hawaiian Top Fueler at the 1965 race.
Prudhomme posted his first victory in Roland Leong’s Hawaiian entry, a machine that was a major part of much 1960s Winternationals lore. Leong, who with Prudhomme also won that year’s Nationals in Indianapolis, won the Winternationals in Top Fuel the next year with new driver Mike Snively, then also won Indy to duplicate the previous year’s unprecedented feat. Leong’s cars would be spectacular even in defeat; his first Hawaiian Funny Car, a Dodge Charger with Larry Reyes at the wheel, took flight at the finish line in round one of the1969 event.
           
Another unforgettable moment in drag racing lore was logged at the 1963 event in Top Gas: John Peters was originally listed as the driver for the winning entry, the twin-small-block Chevy-powered Freight Train, but the car was actually piloted by Bob Muravez, who used the fictitious name of Floyd Lippencott Jr. because his parents had forbidden him to race. He defeated the single-engine Chrysler of Connie Kalitta, who would win the Winternationals four years later in Top Fuel with Ford power.
           
History of a different kind was made in 1966, when Shirley Shahan won Top Stock to become the first woman to win a major NHRA event. Shahan outlasted 1964 Nationals winner Roger Lindamood, 1964 Nationals S/S class winner Butch Leal, 1964 Junior Stock world champion Mike Schmitt, 1965 Winternationals Top Stock winner Jenkins, and others to triumph.
           
Bob Muravez, center, remained in the background and partially hidden in the 1963 Top Gas winner's circle as he had been forbidden by his parents to race.
The factory wars that had dominated the headlines as Detroit’s best were pitted against one another came to a head in 1968, when Ford sent eight Cobra Jet Mustangs, uniform in appearance, equipped with Ford’s new 428-cid Cobra Jet engine, and piloted by a who’s who of the era’s top drivers — Nicholson, Gas Ronda, Al Joniec, Hubert Platt, Jerry Harvey, Carl Holbrook, Bill Ireland, and Phil Bonner — to Pomona to compete in Super Stock. It was a successful debut, to be sure. Joniec beat Platt for class honors and defeated Dave Wren’s Mopar in the Super Stock final.
           
The decade closed with two fan favorites winning in Top Fuel. In 1968, Bakersfield, Calif.’s James Warren and longtime partner Roger Coburn, known as the Ridge Route Terrors for the historic highway that linked early Los Angeles with California’s central valley, won on the first final-round bye run in NHRA history after Dwight Salisbury’s crew couldn’t replace a worn-out clutch in time. A year later, “the Zookeeper,” John Mulligan — who adopted his nickname as a way to trump the colorfully labeled “Snake” and “Mongoose” — ended a string of six big-meet runner-ups in the previous two years, including at the Springnationals and World Finals in 1968, when he drove his and Tim Beebe’s green-striped Beebe & Mulligan dragster to the team’s only NHRA Top Fuel victory. Sadly, Mulligan was badly burned in a first-round accident at the Nationals later that year and later died as the result of the burns.
           
Starting with this win in 1966 againy Tommy Larkin, Gordon Collett, near lane, won three straight Top Gas titles at the Winternationals.
Clare Sanders drove “Jungle Jim” Liberman’s Chevy II to the first Winternationals Funny Car crown in 1969 to score his only NHRA national event title with a final-round victory against Ray Alley. Also at the 1969 event, the dragstrip was officially dubbed “Parker Avenue,” complete with a Pomona street sign anchored to the left of the starting line, in honor of Pomona Police Chief Ralph Parker, who played a pivotal role in helping establish the annual event.
           
Among the decade’s other Winternationals stars were Gordon “Collecting” Collett, who lived up to his nickname by collecting three Top Gas crowns (1966-68), and Hugh Tucker, who also won three times, in Little in 1962, Junior in 1963, and Super in 1966. Chico Breschini, who won Comp in 1965 and 1967, and Nicholson were the decade’s only other multi-time Winternationals winners.

Year-by-Year Results 
1961
Top Eliminator W: Jack Chrisman RU: Tom McEwen
Middle Eliminator W: Mickey Thompson RU: Hirschfield & Buky
Little Eliminator W: Dick Manz RU: Frank Pisano
Street W: Johnny Loper RU: Mazmanian & Wade
Stock W: Don Nicholson RU: Frank Sanders
 
1962
Top Eliminator W: Jim Nelson R/U: Tom McEwen
Middle Eliminator W: Gary Cagle R/U: Ron Stearns
Little Eliminator W: Hugh Tucker R/U: McClain-McDowell
Junior Eliminator W: Bones Balough R/U: Doug Cook
Street W: Earl Wade R/U: K.S. Pittman
Stock W: Don Nicholson R/U: Dave Strickler
 
1963
Top Fuel W: Don Garlits R/U: Art Malone
Top Gas W: Bob Muravez R/U: Connie Kalitta
Comp W: Tony Nancy R/U: Jerry Hardick
Middle Eliminator W: Doug Cook R/U: Jim Dunn
Little Eliminator W: Richard Bourgeois R/U: Chuck Smith
Junior Eliminator W: Hugh Tucker R/U: Bob Colbert
Stock W: Al Eckstrand R/U: Bill Shirey
 
1964
Top Fuel W: Jack Williams R/U: Tommy Ivo
Top Gas W: Danny Ongais R/U: Mickey Thompson
Comp W: Charlie Smith R/U: Ed Weddle
Street W: Ron Root R/U: Norm Armstrong
Factory Stock W: Ronnie Sox R/U: Don Nicholson
Stock W: Tommy Grove R/U: Doug Lovegrove
 
1965
Top Fuel W: Don Prudhomme R/U: Bill Alexander
Top Gas W: Jimmy Nix R/U: Harold Amyx
Comp W: Chico Breschini R/U: Charlie Smith
Street W: Ernie Dutre R/U: Bill Hoefer
Stock W: Bill Jenkins R/U: Dick Housey
Junior Stock W: Dave Kempton R/U: Jerry Young
Factory Stock W: Bill Lawton R/U: Len Richter
 
1966
Top Fuel W: Mike Snively R/U: Jim Dunn
Top Gas W: Gordon Collett R/U: Tommy Larkin
Comp W: Arnold Chaves R/U: Frank Smith
Sportsman W: Hugh Tucker R/U: Walt Marrs
Street W: Jerry Harvey R/U: Mike Schmitt
Stock W: Shirley Shahan R/U: Ken Heinemann
Super Stock W: Wiley Cossey R/U: Robert Chiesa
 
1967
Top Fuel W: Connie Kalitta R/U: Gene Goleman
Top Gas W: Gordon Collett R/U: Kelly Brown
Sportsman W: Ed Kohler R/U: Hugh Tucker
Comp W: Chico Breschini R/U: Mike Vincz
Street W: Richard Wood R/U: Bill Coon
Super Stock W: Eddie Vasquez R/U: Ed Miller
Stock W: Graham Douglas R/U: Keith Berg
 
1968
Top Fuel W: James Warren R/U: Dwight Salisbury
Top Gas W: Gordon Collett R/U: Jack Jones
Sportsman W: Rich Galli R/U: Ward & Guzman
Comp W: Gene Snow R/U: Marvin Clarke
Street W: Bo Laws R/U: Bob Riffle
Super Stock W: Al Joneic R/U: Dave Wren
Stock W: John Barkley R/U: Jim McFarland
 
1969
Top Fuel W: John Mulligan R/U: Don Prudhomme
Top Gas W: Dave Grassi R/U: Cliff Smith
Funny Car W: Clare Sanders R/U: Ray Alley
Sportsman W: Ken Dondero R/U: Paul Pittman
Comp W: Ed Sigmon R/U: Ray Hadford
Street W: Dick Landy R/U: Bob Riffle
Super Stock W: Don Grotheer R/U: Jerry Harvey
Stock W: Mark Coletti R/U: Cal Method