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Antron Brown, Mike Neff, Greg Anderson, and Eddie Krawiec took race wins, and Tony Schumacher and Hector Arana scored season championships at the year-end Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
The sky-high championship drama that remained after Robert Hight in Funny Car and Mike Edwards in Pro Stock earned their season titles Saturday evening ratcheted up in Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle before Schumacher and Arana claimed the respective titles. Although the Top Fuel title officially was decided when Schumacher, with a two-point lead, and Larry Dixon both unexpectedly lost in the semifinals, in essence it was won Saturday night when Schumacher took the No. 1 qualifying berth from Dixon and the points that went with it to go from a two-point deficit to a two-point lead entering race day, a margin that ended up being the difference between No. 1 and No. 2. Arana won the championship in the semifinals when Krawiec, who needed to win the race and set a national record, was unable to make a backup run in the semifinals. He did win the race and, like Dixon, finished second by two points. [Final 2009 points]
The stage had long been set in everyone’s mind that Schumacher and Dixon would square off in a winner-take-all title round, but someone forgot to tell Spencer Massey and Brown, who worked their way to a surprising final. The contest was short-lived, though, as Massey left .008-second too soon, then smoked the tires on Don Prudhomme’s machine. Brown raced to the title, his eighth in the class, with a strong 3.801.
“Of all my years racing, this was a career year,” said Brown. “We won a lot of rounds and got a lot of points, but we just have to tackle this Countdown a little different way next year, and we’re going to work real hard on that. This was a whole new package we were running this weekend and not the stuff we were running earlier this season, and it kind of bit us in the Countdown. We got our car turned around this weekend, so hats off to Brian [Corradi] and Mark [Oswald, crew chiefs]. We’ll have a lot more resources next year [being with Don Schumacher Racing] and be back at this race next year running for the title like [Schumacher and Dixon] were this year.”
Brown, an early favorite to contend with Dixon and Schumacher for the world championship before he fell on lean times in the playoffs and had to deal with his team being sold for the third time in less than a year, had a great rebound race with the Schumacher-owned Matco Tools dragster. Brown, a 16-time winner in the Pro Stock Motorcycle ranks, was appearing in his 15th Top Fuel final and got there by beating Urs Erbacher, Brandon Bernstein, and Schumacher. His 3.82 to 3.83 defeat of teammate Schumacher meant little other than who would hold the event trophy as Schumacher had already won the championship on Dixon’s semifinal loss the pair before.
Of his race against Schumacher that could have cost his teammate the championship, Brown said, “I wasn’t nervous because it was Larry and Shoe that had everything to lose, and the pressure and stakes were high. We don’t have team orders because even though we have the same team owner, we all have different sponsors, so we go out there and race. Brian and Mark tuned it up to see what it would handle, and it ran 3.82. We stepped it up even harder for the final but not all the way because we didn’t want to smoke the tires and give it away, so we were looking for a .79 or .80, and that’s what we got.”
Massey, who replaced Dixon behind the wheel of Prudhomme’s dragster, was the guy who put an end to Dixon’s hopes in the semifinals after Dixon’s Al-Anabi dragster smoked the tires. Massey, who had beaten Scott Palmer and Kragen O’Reilly NHRA Winternationals champ Doug Kalitta, moved into the final round, the fifth of what surely will be a rookie-of-the-year-winning season, with a 3.810. Massey also has three wins in seven final rounds in NHRA Top Alcohol Dragster competition.
Neff, a former world champion crew chief with Gary Scelzi, finally posted his first win as a driver in a wild Funny Car final-round battle with teammate Ashley Force Hood. Neff smoked the tires at 60 feet and appeared dead in the water until Force Hood smoked her tires 200 feet out. Neff recovered better, and while Force Hood was sashaying wildly all over the track and eventually tagged the wall, Neff was long gone to a 5.13 to record his first victory.
“It feels awesome to get our first win. We’ve been to a lot of finals and had some bad breaks and just couldn’t seem to get it done, so your confidence starts to get rattled, and you start wondering if you’re ever going to get a win. Today we got a lot of breaks, but we ran good at the right time.
“[In the final] I thought I was dead because it smoked them so early, then I saw her out there having problems. I pedaled it a couple of times, and it hooked up, and I got past her. It’s the perfect ending with Robert winning the championship, Ashley finishing second, and for me to get my first win. It turned out to be a great weekend.”
Neff, who reached the final earlier this year in Phoenix and in Reading, came from the No. 10 spot with his Drive One Mustang by getting past Jim Head, team owner John Force, and Tim Wilkerson, running as quick as 4.12 in the second-round conquest of his boss.
Force Hood didn’t win the championship that was locked up by teammate Hight Saturday, but her run to the final did lock up second place despite the best efforts of several other drivers to take it from her. After qualifying her Dean Antonelli- and Ron Douglas-tuned Castrol GTX Mustang No. 1, she raced past Bob Bode, Del Worsham, and Ron Capps to reach the final, the 13th of her Funny Car career.
After a late season full of Edwards domination in Pro Stock – capped by Edwards’ coronation as the new champ Saturday evening – Anderson and Kurt Johnson had final 2009 outings that gave them hope after a pair of disappointing seasons. In a rematch of last season’s final round here, Anderson won again when Johnson turned on the red-light with a -.017 foul. The win is Anderson’s milestone 60th in 88 finals.
Anderson, unaccustomed to playing second fiddle, can go into the off-season confident that Ken Black’s Summit team is back as it outran Edwards all day, including in the semifinals, where Anderson beat the new champ , 6.57 to 6.66. Prior to that, Anderson had run 6.580 and 6.575, outperforming Edwards in both of those rounds in defeating Dave Northrop and red-lighting Greg Stanfield.
“Mike did a whale of a job this year, and he deserves to be the champion,” Anderson acknowledged, “but we found a way today to outperform him. The years I won the championship, I always wanted to win this race, too. You think, ‘If I don’t win this race, it will be a hole in that championship season’ because when you’re the champion, you want to be standing on that last stage. It makes the title complete. I certainly don’t want to take anything away from Mike because he had 24 great races, but right now, I’m the last guy standing tonight and the happiest guy right now. Tomorrow night [at the awards ceremony], he’ll be the happiest guy, but right now, I’m the happiest guy.
“It’s been a very, very, very interesting season for me, kind of a trying, up and down year for me with a few too many valleys and not enough peaks. We had a few flashes of brilliance, like today, where we showed what we can do; we just didn’t do it often enough.”
Johnson was appearing in his milestone 75th final and looking for a 40th win racing his ACDelco Cobalt – in the last event with that livery – but, perhaps just as importantly, looking to extend to 15 his streak of winning at least one national event per season. Johnson began his run to the final by upsetting No. 7 qualifier Johnny Gray, who got loose in the favored left lane in round one, then defeated late-leaving Ron Krisher and, on a huge semifinal holeshot, Jason Line. K.J.’s .001 reaction time and 6.624 held off Line’s low e.t. blast of 6.556 by just .0064-second.
Krawiec, who won the Pro Stock Motorcycle season title last year without winning a race, finished in second place with his fifth win of the season when Doug Horne turned on the red-light by .001-second. Krawiec ran a dazzling 6.905, low e.t. of the meet and a run he could have used the round before.
Krawiec needed a near miracle to catch Arana in their battle for the season championship, even after Arana went out unexpectedly in round two on a red-light. By that point, Krawiec had already beaten Steve Johnson and Jim Underdahl with a pair of 6.95s but needed not only to beat teammate Andrew Hines in the semifinals but also to run at least 6.918 to get a backup for the national record and the 20 bonus points and win the final to squeak past Arana. Hines went -.010 red against Krawiec, but Krawiec’s third straight 6.95 was nowhere close to the necessary backup, and it didn’t even earn the Harley rider lane choice against Horne in the final, the 17th of his career.
“If I had had that final-round e.t. [in the semifinals], I think Hector would have been sweating it out a little bit,” said Krawiec. “My bike was on a rail there in the final, finally. That was the first pass of the weekend that I could say that my bike made a respectable pass down this track, and I’m pretty excited.
“Last year, I was fortunate to come up here and not have the race win and have the championship, but this year, I still am a very lucky person to be in here talking about getting the race win and not the championship. It came down to two points. It shows you how important qualifying is. We bobbled a little bit this weekend in qualifying, which ultimately could have cost us. We were trying to keep Hector from getting to that three-round deficit, and unfortunately for us, we didn’t, and it shows in the end. But our Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson bike has been running really well the second half of the year. I’m excited. I’m looking forward to next year. This year’s behind us already, so looking forward to 2010.”
Horne, who reached the final twice in his first three outings this season – in Houston and Gainesville – reached his third final by racing his Buell past Fred Camarena, Doug Hope, and Junior Pippin with a pair of 6.99s and a fine semifinal 6.94 to earn final-round lane choice
Thursday: Schumacher, Hight, Edwards in championship form; Stoffer also leads
Friday: Dixon, Force jump to nitro leads; Edwards, Stoffer remain on point
Saturday: Dramatic Saturday sets up championship Sunday at NHRA Finals
Mike Edwards in Pro Stock and Robert Hight in Funny Car claimed their first NHRA Full Throttle world championships at the close of qualifying for the season-ending Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals.
The points Edwards earned for his No. 1 starting spot combined with 10 qualifying bonus points gives him a 150-point lead over second-place Greg Anderson, which is more than enough to mathematically eliminate Anderson from championship contention (only 100 more points are available at the event). Though it is his first Pro Stock title, this is Edwards’ second overall NHRA crown; he also won the Modified championship in 1981.
Edwards had the dominant car of the 2009 season, wheeling his ART/Young Life Pontiac GXP to five wins (Atlanta, Bristol, Seattle, Charlotte, and Richmond) in 10 final-round appearances. He was also the No. 1 qualifier 15 times during the season, including at the eight events leading into the season finale. He held both ends of the national record during the season (he is the current e.t. holder at 6.509, but his 212.03-mph speed mark was bettered by Anderson). Edwards also tied Anderson’s single-season record for No. 1 starts at 16.
“I can say words, but they just don’t describe the feeling I have,” said an emotional Edwards. “It’s so exciting for me, and it’s been such a long time coming, but it’s all worth it. It’s Roger Stahl and a bunch of guys who got together a couple of years ago and decided to give it our best effort. We decided we’d try one time to do it the right way and started our shop, and we’ve all just kept pulling at the same end of the rope, and here we are, living our dream.
“We knew over the winter we were a lot better, but until you get out here and run against the Summit team, the Jegs team, the Johnsons, and everyone, you just don’t know. We started off well here and got on a roll. It wasn’t until the middle of the summer when we got four or five runners-ups and a couple of wins that I thought if we could keep our momentum going and keep fighting adversity that we knew we had a good chance. We made a lot of good decisions on the car and just tested and tested and tested. We did everything we could this year to make it happen, and it’s all paid off.
“There are a lot of people behind this, and they all give me great opportunities,” said Edwards. “It’s been a long time coming, but it sure feels good right now. [Our final run] just goes to show you what Terry Adams, Josh Robinson, Al Lindsay, and Nick and Paul and Carl and just the whole team can do — they’re fabulous. I feel like there were times I let them down, but they never gave up on me. They kept encouraging me and telling me that I could do it, and somehow I guess I believed them a time or two. I can’t forget my backbone, my friend, the one that keeps me in line and keeps encouraging me when I lose a little bit or get stressed out: my wife, Lisa. Thank you, Lisa, and thank you to my sister, Marilyn.”
Edwards is the 15th driver in NHRA history to win a Pro Stock championship. His previous best finish in Pro Stock was third, in 1996, when he also set his previous best mark for wins in a season at three. This is Edwards’ ninth top 10 finish.
Minutes after Edwards accepted the Wally trophy emblematic of his title, Hight became the second of two first-time NHRA Professional champions crowned when he earned enough points in qualifying with his Auto Club Mustang to mathematically eliminate his closest points rival, teammate Ashley Force Hood, to claim the Funny Car championship, the 16th for John Force Racing.
For Hight, who moved from clutch specialist on Force’s Funny Car to the cockpit in 2005, it has been a relatively short ride to glory — a path that has included his being named the winner of the Auto Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award as 2005′s top rookie and second-place points finishes in 2006 and 2007 – but it has been a rocky ride this season.
The fifth-year pilot struggled through the season’s first two-thirds, winning just 12 rounds at the first 17 events and twice failing to qualify, and he needed a last-second near-miracle to qualify for the Countdown playoffs, which he got with a runner-up finish to Force Hood at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil.
“We started with the same team we had last year, and I was so excited, and that’s how John won so many championships. We started struggling, but I still think that’s what got us through it. We never doubted each other and worked through the hard times. I’ve had a lot of time to think about this but never really got emotional about it until that last run. We’ve all worked so hard and so long for it.
“Coming so close so many times before makes this really special, but it’s really all about this team. It’s a whole team behind this, starting with John Force, who put me with the best people. The best advice he gave me was to team up with [crew chief] Jimmy [Prock] and become his buddy, like he and [Austin] Coil and just live with him, and that’s what I’ve done. He’s like my brother. I can’t thank John enough for taking a chance on a guy who’d never driven anything but a Ford F-150 truck and for the sponsors like AAA for supporting John.”
After Indy, Prock found the magic that had eluded him all season and turned up the wick on his Prock Rocket. They won back to back in Charlotte and Dallas to kick off the playoffs, then returned to the winner’s circle in Las Vegas with a performance that all but sealed the championship.
Hight, a son-in-law of Force (who has won 14 championships and was team owner for Tony Pedregon’s Funny Car title in 2003), is a former championship trapshooter and finally has zeroed in on another title target.
Texas Motorplex wishes D4 “Good Guy” racers good luck at the 45th annual Automobile Club of Southern Califronia NHRA Finals this weekend.
Texas Motorplex would like to wish all of the Division 4 racers representing the D4 “Good Guys”, including Jason Kizlinski and Warren Wright, good luck this weekend at the 45th annual Automobile Club of Southern Califronia NHRA Finals.
Jason Kizlinski of from Midlothian, Tx will be representing the Texas Motorplex after his No-E Street win at the Division 4 Summit ET Finals and Warren Wright of Grandview, Tx will be representing NorthStar Dragway after his win in No-E Quick .
By: Jack Korpela, Cycledrag.com
GEICO Powersports Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Karen Stoffer can’t think of a better way to end the NHRA season than with a win at this weekend’s AAA Auto Club Finals from Pomona, Calif.
“Were looking for a win,” Stoffer said. “There’s no question about it. A victory would be the best way to go into the off season.”
Stoffer is coming off of a successful outing at the Las Vegas Nationals, where she qualified fifth and scored a first round victory over veteran Steve Johnson.
“We had a great motorcycle in Vegas,” Stoffer said. “The team’s hard work really paid off. We hope to be fast in Pomona as well.”
Stoffer enters this race ranked No. 7 in the Full Throttle Series with 2,213 points. She trails No. 6 Douglas Horne by 49 points, and No. 5 Michael Phillips by 75 points. Stoffer’s highest year-end ranking came in 2006 when she finished sixth.
“We should be in good shape for Pomona,” team owner Doug Johnson said. “We really want to end the season on a high note.”
Opening qualifying in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class gets underway on Friday, November 13th, at 1:30 PM.
Stoffer went on to extend special thanks to all of her sponsors and supporters.
NHRA and primary sponsor Full Throttle Energy Drink will put a new face on drag racing’s premier series in 2010 with the unveiling of a new series logo.
NHRA’s top Professional series, consisting of Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle, first partnered with The Coca-Cola Company in 2001, and the association will continue through at least 2013. Full Throttle Energy Drink assumed the title sponsorship from POWERADE beginning with the 2009 season, launching what is arguably one of the strongest synergies between brand and sport in the sports and entertainment industry.
The association between NHRA and Coca-Cola North America, with support from Coca-Cola Enterprises, represents one of the longest-running series sponsorships in motorsports, and the move to Full Throttle Energy Drink marks the lead sports marketing association for the beverage company’s lead energy drink, which has been the official energy drink of NHRA since 2005.
NHRA’s top Professional series features 23 races from February through November, all of which are broadcast by ESPN2 in HD.