POMONA – Day 1 of Tony Mandella’s second NHRA season will begin especially early this morning. “I’ll wake up around 5:30,” the 21-year-old driver from Upland said Friday, “mainly because I won’t be able to sleep. First-race jitters.” His first name, that is. Tony’s father, Phil, was a fixture in the Super Stock division before reducing to a part-time schedule in the last decade. He now runs Phil Mandella Racing, which builds and fabricates dragsters, several of which will run this weekend. Tony’s uncle, Ronnie, was the family’s first NHRA driver and is in town this weekend to watch his nephew race for the first time in six years. Yet despite his lineage – having practically grown up on a racetrack – and already having a full NHRA season under his belt, it’s still not an easy sleep the night before Day 1. “It’s pretty important,” Tony said of this weekend’s race. “If you go far enough in the rounds, you could be in the points for the year. “Then you get your name out there, get a reputation for yourself and try to work your way up.” Mandella will roll out his 1966 Chevy Impala for three rounds of Stock class qualifying today at the NHRA Winternationals. Friday’s round was scratched after an early oil spill on the Auto Club Raceway track caused a long delay. And that leaves a lot of work ahead this weekend for Mandella, who, in his second season as one of the NHRA’s up-and-coming sportsman drivers, is looking to get his name out there. Last year, Mandella was happy just to finish among the top 40 (38th) in his rookie season. Unlike the majority of his competitors, he did so while taking a full college class schedule at Azusa Pacific University. This year Mandella isn’t backing off school at all. He was enrolled in 18 units last semester and will be for the upcoming term as well. And yet, if you ask him where he sees himself 10 years down the road, the answer is surprisingly definite for a 21-year-old with one foot in college and the other in a dragster. “I’m always going to be drag racing,” Mandella said. “I’ll never be able to get away from it.” A 2004 graduate of La Verne Lutheran High School, Mandella played baseball, football, soccer and track & field. Concurrently he followed his dad around the country to a geographically diverse list of NHRA tracks, getting quite an education on the road. “I knew I wanted to be racing,” he said. Mandella got started in the junior dragster circuit at 16 and over the years pitched in at PMR on the side. Finally debuting in the NHRA last season, he peaked at the season’s penultimate race, advancing to the semifinals in Las Vegas on Oct. 29. A week later at the season-ending event in Pomona, Mandella advanced to the third round of eliminations before bowing out. Not a bad way to end your first season, for sure. But as Mandella notes, “I haven’t won a race in this car yet. “That’s going to change this weekend.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!