NHRA POWERade Series champs are crowned; Neff is named top rookie
Tony Schumacher, who became the first Top Fuel driver in NHRA history to win five consecutive POWERade Series world championships with a record-setting season, headlined the four world-championship winning drivers crowned Monday evening during the 2008 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series awards ceremony at the Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City.
Three other NHRA POWERade Series world champions – Cruz Pedregon, Jeg Coughlin and Eddie Krawiec — also were presented checks and trophies for their achievements during the 2008 POWERade Countdown to the Championship.
Schumacher received a check for $500,000 from NHRA and POWERade for winning the Top Fuel world championship. It was Schumacher’s fifth consecutive crown and his sixth title overall. Schumacher drove his Alan Johnson-tuned U.S. Army dragster to a category record 15 victories during the season and dominated competition in the 7,000 horsepower category from start to finish.
Pedregon earned his second Funny Car series crown, and first since the 1992 season, by winning the final three races of the season in the Countdown to 1 playoffs behind the wheel of his Rahn Tobler-tuned Advance Auto Parts Toyota Solara. He earned $500,000 from NHRA and POWERade for the title.
Coughlin took his second consecutive and fourth overall Pro Stock world championship title with a solid Countdown to 1 effort, driving his Jegs.com Chevy Cobalt to three victories during the year, including a critical win at the penultimate race in Las Vegas in October. The Delaware, Ohio driver was presented a $250,000 check from NHRA and POWERade.
Krawiec earned his first NHRA POWERade Series world championship in Pro Stock Motorcycle and became the second driver in NHRA history to win a series title without winning a race during the season, joining 1979 Top Fuel champ Rob Bruins. Krawiec rode his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley Davidson to four runner-up finishes – all during the Countdown to 1 playoffs — to take home the $75,000 payday from NHRA and POWERade.
Funny Car driver Mike Neff won the $20,000 Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award, which recognizes NHRA’s rookie of the year. A panel of the nation’s most prominent motorsports journalists selected Neff, who traded in his crew chief wrench for a pair of driving gloves in 2008. He was the only rookie candidate who qualified for the Countdown to 1. His season highlights included three runner-up finishes and two No. 1 qualifying awards behind the wheel of his Old Spice Ford Mustang. It is the third time in the last four years that a driver from John Force Racing has won the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award, as Neff joins ’07 winner Ashley Force and ’05 winner Hight. Other nominees for the prestigious award included Bob Tasca in Funny Car, Steve Torrence in Top Fuel, Rickie Jones in Pro Stock and Junior Pippin in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
NHRA Full Throttle Pit Crew Challenge season awards, recognizing the most consistently quick teams during qualifying throughout the year, were presented to Schumacher’s U.S. Army Top Fuel team ($25,000) led by crew chief Johnson; Ashley Force’s Castrol GTX Ford Mustang Funny Car team ($25,000) led by Dean Antonelli; Kurt Johnson’s ACDelco Chevy Cobalt Pro Stock team ($15,000); and Andrew Hines’ Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Pro Stock Motorcycle team ($5,000) led by Byron and Matt Hines.
Chevrolet won the NHRA Manufacturers Cup for the 17th time, an NHRA record. NHRA Pro Owner’s Cups were presented to Don Schumacher (Top Fuel); Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car); and Victor Cagnazzi (Pro Stock). Also as part of the evening, the late Scott Kalitta was honored with a moving video tribute.
Drivers in seven categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series also were recognized as 2008 world champions: Bill Reichert (Top Alcohol Dragster); Frank Manzo (Top Alcohol Funny Car); Dan Fletcher (Competition Eliminator); Ricky Decker (Super Stock); Lee Zane (Stock Eliminator); Shawn Langdon (Super Comp) and Brian Forrester (Super Gas).