The Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals will be the first event on Jason Rupert’s five-race 2023 schedule that includes both the Pomona and Las Vegas NHRA national events and the Sonoma Nationals later this summer. Though the independent driver does not have a primary sponsor at the start of the season, he receives support from longtime partners TMS Titanium, Lucas Oil, CP-Carrillo, ICE Recovery + Wellness, and MAC Speed & Custom. He has a host of new local sponsors at his home race including J.S. Easterday Construction, Shell Roofing, S and J Interiors, Realtor David A. Silva, and Mayor’s Manor. Additionally, professional musician C.C. Thomas Jr., the bassist and bandleader for Diana Ross, has come on board with his Music For Young Minds Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charity organization that has been established to make free music education accessible for as many children as possible who may have the desire to study music but don’t have the means. Thomas will be with the team during the Winternationals this weekend.
“I’ve been going to TMS for all my titanium needs since 2015,” said Rupert, who has three decades of experience, having begun his driving career in Charlie Marquez’s Top Alcohol Dragster in 1993. “From the performance side to safety and construction, Funny Cars have so many elements that require the combination of strength and lightweight that titanium provides. What separates TMS from other suppliers is their knowledge in our industry of what grade of titanium is best suited for each application.”
Rupert’s team will be led by Rahn Tobler, who retired from full-time racing following his Top Fuel win with Austin Prock at the 2022 NHRA Finals. Tobler is advising the Southern California-based team during their limited schedule. Rupert ended his 2022 season with a career-best 4.030 second at 313.44 mph run at the NHRA Finals and was a finalist for the Automobile Club Road to the Future Award. His biggest performance goal for the NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals is to record a 3-second elapsed time.
“I think we have a lot to be excited about going into a new season,” said Rupert. “We’ve had some ups and downs learning how to race at this level. We have a good group of volunteer guys on the crew who are really passionate. We all want to go out there and run hard. It takes time, and it takes runs. We have good parts and some talented people who have been willing to guide us. It’s up to us to not make mistakes and keep progressing.”
Rupert moved up to the professional ranks after acquiring the late Steve Plueger’s operation and upgrading it with Ford Mustang bodies, engine components from Don Schumacher Racing, and Bob Tasca III’s five-disc clutch program. The team made its debut at the NHRA Las Vegas Four-Wide Nationals in 2021 with Jonnie Lindberg driving. Rupert earned his competition license upgrade that Monday and made his Professional driving debut at the 2021 NHRA Sonoma Nationals.
“All I’ve ever really wanted to do is race Funny Cars. I’d sit in all the cars that my dad was putting together at Woody Gilmour’s shop. I’d see the drivers putting on their masks with the breathers in the lanes at Orange County International Raceway and thought that was the coolest thing in the world,” added Rupert.
Outside of racing his Funny Car, Rupert is a custom fabricator by trade and crew chief for Jerry Espeseth’s Atlas Testing Nostalgia Funny Car. He lives in Anaheim Hills, Calif., with wife Jennifer and son Nickolas. Rupert will get to make his first passes of the season Friday in the opening qualifying session followed by two more qualifying runs on Saturday. The quickest 16 Funny Cars will race in eliminations on Sunday beginning at 11 a.m. with the race being broadcast nationally on FS1.