They are two of southern California’s greatest winter traditions.

The swallows always return to Mission San Juan Capistrano on March 19.

And on the second weekend of February, the nitro thunder returns to Pomona.

Think of it as Punxsutawney Phil seeing not his shadow, but a vapor trail.

Another National Hot Rod Association season ignites with the 59th Annual Lucas Oil NHRA WinterNationals presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com at Auto Club Raceway.

The NHRA Mello  Yello Drag Racing Series witnessed a changing of the guard of sorts in 2018. 

The three major national touring divisions all had first-time winners: Steve Torrence in Top Fuel, J.R. Todd in Funny Car and  Tanner Gray in Pro Stock.

At 19, Gray was also the youngest Pro Stock champion in NHRA history. 

He has moved on to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, leaving the NHRA Pro Stock title chase wide open.

Torrence has a tough act to follow — his own.

The Kilgore, Tex. native won 11 events in 2018, went undefeated in final rounds and  swept the Countdown to the Championship championship  dates.

Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana, Jr. had the Texan’s Capco Contractors dragster dialed in all year,  in a wakeup call to the larger, more established teams in Top Fuel.

A Top Fueler to watch in 2019 is Mike Salinas.

The San Jose native emerged as a consistent competitor in 2018, and welcomes world championship crew chief Brian Rusen to tune his Scrappers Racing hot rod, with consultation from Alan Johnson.

Johnson tuned Top Fuel world champions Brittany Force in 2017, onetime LACR Junior Dragster Shawn Langdon in 2015 and Del Worsham in 2011.

Todd won six times, and went to five final rounds in the last six weeks  of the season. His win added to the legendary legacy of car owner Connie Kalitta.

Pro Stock perennial contenders Greg Anderson, Jason Line, Erica Enders, Jeg Coughlin, Jr. and Bo Butner, who won the final race at Pomona last November, figure to battle for the series  crown.

The Mickey Thompson Tires Top Fuel Harley Series will also be on the quarter-mile this weekend.

Valley sportsman drag racers will be well-represented in the NHRA Lucas Oil Racing Series.

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