Pedregon adds win to championship
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).