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NHRA champions crowned in season finale
The most dramatic single day in the history of drag racing ended with four new POWERade Champions being crowned at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. Tony Schumacher and Matt Smith needed wins in the final round of the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals to clinch their titles. Funny Car champion Tony Pedregon sweated it out until the semifinals before securing his second crown, while Jeg Coughlin wrapped up Pro Stock title No. 3 in the quarterfinals.

For the second year in a row, Schumacher waited until the final pass of the season to steal the title away, this time from "Hot Rod" Fuller. He defeated Bob Vandergriff with the quickest pass of the race, a 4.486 at 328.30 mph. Robert Hight beat fill-in teammate Phil Burkart in the Funny Car final when Burkart smoked his tires 200 feet out. Coughlin punctuated his title with his 38th career win, this one over first-time finalist Justin Humphreys. Smith beat fellow Buell rider Chip Ellis in the final with a whopping 6.944.

Tony Schumacher

Schumacher becomes the first Top Fuel racer to win four championships in a row with his second Cinderella finish in as many years. Entering this weekend in fourth place and needing help on many fronts, Schumacher danced his way through to the final in the U.S. Army dragster and blistered Vandergriff's UPS rail, 4.486 to 4.681, to win his fifth POWERade championship by just 19 points.

This was the sixth win for Schumacher in six final-round showings this year and moves his career record to 41-29, just 11 wins shy of the all-time class record held by Joe Amato. Vandergriff completed the season a career-best fifth in the points but set the record for final-round futility with his 0-12 mark. This was his fifth runner-up of the year. 

"After the second round it was like déjà vu," Schumacher said. "My knees started shaking and I had that feeling like maybe we could do it again. The guys on this team are unbelievable when the pressure is on. They showed it again today. 

"It's my dad's birthday and I wanted to win it for him. He gives us the best equipment, hires the best crew people, and puts the best possible team out there and he deserves this result. The car's perfect every week and I'm motivated by not wanting to be the weak link in this whole deal.

"I did not think we were gonna pull this off. Coming in we were four rounds back. So many things had to happen. But we still had a chance and, I never thought I'd say this, this new Countdown deal really worked. We had two champions decided in the final and all four decided on the final day. It's worked."

Fuller had the points lead at the start of the day but lost in the opening round to Vandergriff. He was left to ponder the "what-ifs" all day before finally watching Schumacher sneak by in the final. He ended up second. Brandon Bernstein followed in third, while Larry Dixon finished in fourth.

Robert Hight

Temporary teammates Hight and Burkart had little to race for in the final besides bragging rights and an event Wally as the Funny Car title had already been decided one round earlier. Hight took care of business in his Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang and zoomed to a 4.731 at 326.71 mph, the quickest elapsed time of the event.

Hight had a chance to steal the title away from Pedregon but he needed a national record to do so. It just never got cool enough for that to happen so he had to settle for his second successive runner-up finish in the points.

"We pushed as hard as we could in the semifinals to try and at least get the back-up for a record but we broke a couple of lifters and it was a handful just to keep it off the wall," Hight said. "It would have been close but it didn't happen. 

"Winning this race is big. I've worked on John [Force's] cars for a long time and we always pointed to this race as one of the big ones because it kind of sets the stage for the coming year and what you need to do in the off-season. It gives you momentum.

"If we had won the championship it wouldn't have made this a great year. Winning the race didn't make it a great year. We lost our teammate this year and nothing will make up for that. We all miss him like you can't believe. I'm gonna go home and have a little ice cream, and like Eric always said, that is sure to make you happy."

Hight evened up his 2007 final-round record to 3-3 and his career record to 8-8 with his win. Burkart, who raced to two finals in just four appearances this year, drops to 4-5 Pedregon was relieved and emotional after finally securing the championship.

"This is racing, and we want to win races, but we have to remember we're putting on a show, and I think the NHRA did a great job with this Countdown," Pedregon said. "The biggest difference between this year and 2003 when I won a title with John Force Racing was the amount of media coverage. The stress is through the roof but in the end, I think we have a better product now.

"I had people doubting my sanity when I left John but I wanted to race with my brother and I wanted to see if I could do it on my own. I know how difficult it is to race a team like that. I know what they have over there. And to be able to beat them is special. Winning our first race on my own was huge. To win this championship, I can't describe it."


Jeg Coughlin

Two rounds after clinching his fourth NHRA title -- Coughlin won Super Gas in 1992 and Pro Stock in 2000, 2002, and 2007 -- Coughlin won his 51st national event by barely catching and passing Humphreys. The former NHRA Sport Compact champion was ahead of Coughlin at every timer except the finish line after jumping out to a .025- to .042-second headstart, but Coughlin's Jegs.com Chevrolet Cobalt had just enough steam to win. The scoreboard showed Coughlin posting a class-best 6.638 at 207.98 mph to Humphreys' 6.662 at 207.27 mph in his RaceRedi GTO.

"This goes back to last week in Las Vegas when I woke up on Sunday morning and said to myself that if I was gonna win the championship it was time to get after it," Coughlin said. "No matter what car I had under me, I needed to get it done. We made it to the final but lost to Greg and came in here almost two rounds behind him. I had to have that talk with myself again and I don't know if I was buying it this time.

"It was amazing to see how it came out in Round 1 with Greg Anderson and Dave Connolly, two of the best in the business, both losing like that. We knew we needed some help and we got it right away. Then I just dug down deep and got that second round win and clinched it. It's a phenomenal feeling."

Coughlin clinched his third Pro Stock title by beating Richie Stevens in the second round. Coughlin entered the race 36 points behind Greg Anderson, but Anderson was tragically late against first-round foe Humphreys and gave up the round on a holeshot. Dave Connolly eliminated himself from contention with a -.013 red light in Round 1, setting the table for his teammate Coughlin.

"To win the first championship under this new Countdown format is really neat," Coughlin said. "The pressure has been intense but I've gotten accustomed to handling it over the years, especially last year when I did a bunch of bracket racing. That's some cutthroat stuff, believe me. 

"This is an incredible accomplishment for Victor Cagnazzi and his wife Brita. They had a dream and they've seen it through. Now they have a championship to show for it and it should be shared equally by everyone in their organization because they're all a big part of this."


Matt Smith

The Pro Stock Motorcycle championship came down to the final round and Smith was superb under the intense pressure, rocketing off the starting line with a titanic .068-second advantage and never looking back, defeating Ellis with a 6.944 at 191.191.08 mph to Ellis' 6.957 at 192.17 mph on his Drag Specialties S&S Buell V-Twin. Smith's e.t. on his Torco Buell was the quickest of the weekend.

The championship was put up for grabs after leader Andrew Hines rolled the lights in the quarterfinals and red-lighted. Had Hines won that round, he would have clinched his fourth straight title. Instead, he was relegated to second place.

"We figured if we won the race today we'd finish in second place," Smith said. "Then we saw Andrew lose and I was like, 'Wow, we might have a chance at this.' Our bike was running good so I knew it was just a matter of executing.

"I think we would have won the championship on either [points] format so we're happy. I wasn't the biggest fan of the Countdown a few races back but it all worked out."

Smith led the points after nine of 15 races coming into this event. He won four races overall and improved to 6-7 for his career.

After not visiting the final round for most of the season, Ellis ended the year with two runner-up results in a row. He even had a chance at the championship but instead settled for third place, one point behind Hines. NHRA PR

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