NHRA: Pedregon adds win to championship; Dixon, Anderson, Rivas also score
Cruz Pedregon probably has never experienced a day quite like he did on Sunday at the 44th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, the 2008 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series season finale at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona where he not only clinched his second career NHRA POWERade Funny Car world championship but did so in convincing fashion by winning the event, his third straight to end the season.
A trio of drivers who finished in second place in their classes – Larry Dixon (Top Fuel), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock), and Chris Rivas (Pro Stock Motorcycle) — enjoyed some retribution for falling just short by punching home wins at the season finale. Rivas earned second place by defeating newly crowned champ Eddie Krawiec in the final round while Dixon downed Rod Fuller and Anderson beat red-lighting Kurt Johnson.
Surprisingly, the Top Fuel final-round matchup between Dixon and Fuller was just their second of the season; the first came at this track nine months earlier, when Dixon beat Fuller in the second round of the Winternationals. The result was the same nine months later as Dixon took the win, 3.833 to 3.839, and punctuated the win with a massive engine explosion and fire. Dixon was unhurt and strode off to claim his first career NHRA Finals victory.
“The car nosed over really, really, really badly on the other end and I gave me the feeling it was going to blow up, but I wasn’t at the finish line yet,” recounted Dixon. “Then I saw the win light come on and it blew up, but I saw the win light come on, and that was all that mattered. We hopped it up for the final and certainly needed it. ‘Hot Rod’ had been cutting good lights all day and their car had been running good. You can tell by the way we blew up that we left everything on the track.
“I hate finishing second [in points], but as far as the bonus money that gets passed around to the guys on the team, the difference between fifth place, where we came into this race, and second, where we finished , is monumental. We were racing to finish second, so I’m really happy for them.”
Dixon, winner earlier this in Phoenix and runner-up in Houston, Bristol, Topeka, and Reading, reached his fifth final of the season with a steady string of passes from Don Prudhomme’s Don Bender- and Todd Smith-tuned U.S. Smokeless dragster. Dixon zipped to back-to-back 3.86s to trailer Clay Millican and Doug Herbert and a 3.85 to beat Cory McClenathan in what was a battle for second place in the standings. Dixon got the nod over McClenathan’s 3.87 to earn his third career second-place finish to go with his season championships in 2002 and 2003.
Fuller had the chance to pass David Powers Racing teammate Antron Brown for fifth place in the standings by winning the event., but his day probably was already made when he upset heavily favored Tony Schumacher, the low qualifier, in the second round. Schumacher was gunning to win a record 77th round and 16th event title this season lost on a holeshot to season-long foil Fuller’s Rob Flynn-tuned Caterpillar rig. Fuller’s .043 light and 3.862 defeated Schumacher’s .062-launched 3.853 by better than a hundredth of a second. Sandwiched around that morale-boosting win were a 3.83 to 3.93 first-round conquest of Steve Torrence and a semifinal victory over European ace Urs Erbacher, 3.85 to 3.99.
Pedregon’s heavy lifting was done by the end of round one when losses by his closest title contenders, Tim Wilkerson and Robert Hight, secured Pedregon’s second career championship, but the driver of the Rahn Tobler-tuned Advance Auto Parts Solara wasn’t done yet. He followed with a second-round victory in a classic race with mentor and rival John Force and Force’s hired gun, low qualifier Mike Neff, then beat Ron Capps on a holeshot in the final. 4.087 to 4.078.
“I’m emotionless, I’m worn out; I’m beyond happy, beyond excited,” said Pedregon after the event. “I was so relieved and for a minute couldn’t even believe it when Tony [Pedregon] beat Hight. What a day. No way did I think the championship would be clinched in the first round. Wilkerson has been so tough all year; I don’t think anyone knew he had that in him. All of those guys deserve credit because this was a hard-fought deal to the end.
“I honestly can’t say we expected to win the race. Neff’s been running so good — he was the No. 1 qualifier and it looked like his day – I just figured I’d go up there and leave on time and at about halftrack I’d see that red fender out there; Capps, too. Those guys are good and are overdue. I just wanted to be in the [finish line] photo shot, but we kept turning on win lights.”
Pedregon was appearing in his third straight final round after winning back-to-back in Richmond and Las Vegas to assume the points lead.
Despite the runner-up, his Finals effort had to be a bit of a salve to Capps, a three-time championship runner-up who experienced one of the toughest seasons of his great career. The driver of Don Schumacher’s NAPA Auto Parts Dodge had won at least three races in each of the previous three campaigns, but reached the final round just once this year, in Seattle, where he lost to Tony Bartone.
Although the Pro Stock championship had been decided in Jeg Coughlin’s favor in qualifying, the battle for second place went all the way to the final where Anderson defeated Kurt Johnson. K.J. red-lighted with a -.004 reaction, but Anderson would have been tough anyway as he ran low e.t. and top speed of 6.615, 209.20.
“It was kind of a neat, neat deal coming down to the final round Kurt and I for second place,” said Anderson. “It is second place, but it was first place today. That’s the best either of us could have done. It was the highest position available, and it felt like we were going for the championship there. I love racing Kurt. We always have great battles. I wish that would have been for the championship, but second ain’t so bad. Right now, we’re going to have to be happy with that, and next year, we’ll have to try and rectify that. Maybe next year it will be Kurt and I going for the championship on the last run here.”
“I’m very proud of my guys. They stuck with me. I’ve certainly had some hiccups along the way during this Countdown, and I have nobody to blame for losing it but myself. My hat’s off to Jeg Coughlin; he did a better job during the Countdown, and he deserved to win the championship this year. I just got to try harder next year, and maybe that’s what I did wrong this year: I probably tried a little too hard and thought too much about it and put too much pressure on myself and just kind of stopped having fun racing. Today, the pressure was off, and I just came out and had fun, and, poof, the car performed great and the driver performed fine and we won a race again.”
Anderson, like Capps, had experienced a less successful season than normal, but the former three-time world champ finished the season on a high note by reaching the winner’s circle for the sixth time this season. Anderson hadn’t reached the final since July, when he won his fifth event of the season in Denver. Anderson’s Summit Pontiac GXP was the car to beat once the race got rolling, qualifying him No. 1 for the seventh time this season and carrying him to runs of 6.64 and a pair of 6.62s to defeat Richie Stevens Jr., Greg Stanfield, and Mike Edwards. His semifinal conquest of Edwards was by just .003-second as his 6.629 ran down Edwards’ holeshot-aided 6.650.
Johnson was gunning for his fourth win of the season with his ACDelco Cobalt, racing to his sixth final round of the season from the No. 3 position. He defeated Vinnie Deceglie, Rickie Jones, and Anderson’s teammate, Jason Line, to reach the money round. The victory over Line was won by a razor-thin margin of .007, 6.638 to 6.650 after Line gained a narrow .011 to .016 advantage at the green.
After having clinched his first NHRA POWERade world championship a round earlier, Krawiec’s next goal was not to become just the second driver in NHRA history to win a championship without winning a national event (Rob Bruins won the 1979 Top Fuel crown in just such a fashion), but Rivas had other ideas, bashing out low e.t. of the meet at 6.929 to defeat Krawiec’s 7.00 and earn his fourth win of the season aboard the Drag Specialties Buell. The victory lifted Rivas into second place in the points, just five markers behind Krawiec.
“We’re still not really sure where that 6.92 came from. I knew that we had left together and by the time I plugged third gear he had completely dropped back; I thought he had broken,” said Rivas, who won three of the five Pro Stock Motorcycle events in the Countdown playoffs. “We hit the rev limited at the finish line so I knew it either had been a really good run or that it had broken the transmission. We owe a great gratitude to Valerie Thompson, who let us take her fuel injection system and wiring harness off of her Buell and l t us use her laptop to tune it.
“I have no animosity about how anything turned out. I did what I was supposed to do as a rider; I took out the reigning world champ and kept him from having the number-two spot, and I feel fantastic about that.”
Krawiec had qualified the Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson No. 2 behind Matt Smith and needed only to go one round further than the reigning season champ to take his crown, a task that got considerably easier when Smith’s NitroFish Buell broke in round two against Rivas. Krawiec had already defeated Peggy Llewellyn in round one, then pulled even in points with Smith by beating Chip Ellis in round two. He did that handily, and clinched the championship in the semifinals when Rivas beat Craig Treble but was unable to secure a run good enough for a potential national event backup he needed to pass Krawiec.
Krawiec did his part as well by beating teammate Andrew Hines in the other half of the semifinals. In addition to beating Smith in round two and Treble in the semi’s, Rivas had trailered Junior Pippin in round one.
Lucas Oil Sportsman event titles were won by Dave Fletcher and Lee Zane, who crowned their season championships in Comp and Stock with season-ending wins. Other titles were won by Jim Whitely (Top Alcohol Dragster), Mick Snyder (Top Alcohol Funny Car), Byron Worner (Super Stock), Anthony Castillo (Super Comp), and David Coapstick (Super Gas).
Summit Racing Series national championships were won by Division 4′s Bart Nelson (Super Pro), Division 6′s Steve Kelly (Pro), Division 1′s Michael VanDenHeuvel (Sportsman), and Division 5′s Tom Klemme (Super Pro Bike).
- Thursday: Lucas cars lead Top Fuel field; Neff, Connolly, Krawiec also grab No. 1s (11/13/2008)
- Friday: Line, Troxel move into top positions; Todd, Krawiec maintain their No. 1s (11/14/2008)
- Saturday: Final day of Pomona qualifying sets the stage for dramatic Sunday finish (11/15/2008)