NHRA Year in review, Part 1

In a season in which old records were broken despite new rules that were in play and a year where new alliances were formed and old friends were lost, NHRA Drag Racing rose to meet challenges both old and new in a remarkable season of competition.

In the first of three installments of an annual NHRA.com feature, we take a look back at the year's top headlines. Today: January through April.

Jan. 2: Bob Gilbertson announced that Nicky Boninfante Jr. will rejoin the Terminator Motorsports team as crew chief for the 2008 season.

Jan. 5: NASCAR road course specialist Boris Said beat Top Fuel pro Morgan Lucas by 1.07 seconds in the final round of the NASCAR vs. NHRA Challenge to claim glory for the roundy-round set at the Olympic Bobsled Course in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Jan. 8: Canidae All Natural Pet Foods, a leading manufacturer of super premium dog and cat foods, announced that it will be the primary sponsor on Jim Dunn Racing's Chevrolet Funny Car for the 2008 NHRA POWERade season.

Jan. 9: Torco Racing Fuels announced an interruption for its 2008 racing season. The break will include sidelining all Knoll Gas Motorsports teams, including those owned by Evan Knoll and sponsored by Torco Racing Fuels.

Jan. 10: NHRA announced modifications to the NHRA POWERade Countdown to the Championship, expanded the playoff fields to 10 drivers in each class, up from eight in 2007, and changing the playoffs to one six-race format instead of the previous two-tiered schedule.

Jan. 10: Team owner Don Prudhomme and owner/driver Tim Wilkerson announced an alliance for the 2008 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing season that will create the ability for the two teams to share resources and discuss tuning decisions, while generating new opportunities for their sponsors.

Jan. 11: In an effort to maintain a high level of communication between race officials and participants, the NHRA announced the formation of a Sportsman Racer Advisory Council to provide a means for discussing and evaluating rules and regulations pertaining to Sportsman racing at NHRA events.

Jan. 11: After losing his Torco sponsorship, Mike Ashley announced a racing partnership with ProCare Rx Chairman and Co-Founder Roger Burgess to field a Funny Car with Melanie Troxel behind the wheel, and while aggressively seeking additional long-term sponsorship to field a second Funny Car.

Jan. 12: Rick Jones' Quarter-Max Racing team announced that it would be competing in NHRA Pro Stock in 2008 with his son, Rickie, behind the wheel.

Jan. 13: Don Schumacher announced that Chip Ellis will join the Don Schumacher Racing stable for the 2008 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing season in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class on a an entry sponsored by Schumacher Electric under a developmental relationship with Suzuki.

Jan. 15: NHRA was named the Diversity in Motorsports Award winner at the Fox Theatre in Detroit during the 12th annual Urban Wheel Awards. The Urban Wheel Awards ceremony is the only official event honoring African-Americans, Latinos and Asians during the North American International Auto Show.

Jan. 16: NHRA announced a new Professional qualifying format in which only the top 12 elapsed times in each pro category will be provisionally recorded prior to the last day of qualifying. Those teams who were unable to earn a provisional spot in the top 12 will have an opportunity to make the 16-car starting order during the final day of qualifying.

Jan. 18: It was announced that Chris Rivas will ride the Drag Specialties S&S Cycle Proven Performance-powered Buell for G Squared Motorsports in 2008.

Jan. 21: Team owner Don Schumacher confirmed that Jerry Toliver would drive the Rockstar Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car for Don Schumacher Racing in the 2008 season.

Jan. 23: Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp. renewed its title sponsorship of the NHRA POWERade Series event at scenic Maple Grove Raceway in southeast Pennsylvania.

Jan. 24: NHRA announced that the Sept. 11-14 national event on the 2008 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series schedule will be held in Charlotte, N.C., at a new state-of-the-art facility being built by Speedway Motorsports Inc.

Jan. 26: The two young sons of Top Fuel racer Doug Herbert were killed in an automobile accident in Cornelius, N.C. Jon, 17, and James, 12, died instantly when their Mazda3 collided with a second vehicle.

Jan. 26: Former Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Antron Brown made the necessary runs in his Matco Tools dragster to earn his crossover Top Fuel license at Firebird Int'l Raceway near Phoenix.

Jan. 26: Five-time and reigning NHRA POWERade Top Fuel world champion Tony Schumacher was the quickest driver during the annual National Time Trials at Firebird Int'l Raceway. Schumacher zipped down the Phoenix quarter-mile in 4.480 seconds. Schumacher's teammate under the Don Schumacher Racing umbrella, Ron Capps, was best in Funny Car with an impressive 4.785 at 322.34 mph.

Jan. 28: Following four months of intensive rehabilitation following the most serious crash of his Pro career, 14-time NHRA champion John Force returned to battle with an unexpected and spectacular 4.782, 327.51 pass during pre-season testing in Phoenix.

Jan. 30: Speedway Motorsports, Inc. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer O. Bruton Smith unveiled plans for a state-of-the-art drag racing facility that he said would become "the Bellagio of dragstrips."


Feb. 1: Bob Tasca III completed the final step needed for entrance into NHRA's Funny Car class with a 4.96 at 317 mph run during testing at Firebird Int'l Raceway in Phoenix.

Feb. 2: Picking up where he left off last year, reigning NHRA POWERade Pro Stock world champion Jeg Coughlin scored the win at the annual Pontiac Pro Stock Showdown at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with a final-round victory over the Mopar Dodge Stratus of Allen Johnson.

Feb. 4: Pro Stock racer Max Naylor announced a new title sponsor for his Dodge Stratus R/T: Phoenix-based VegasFuel Energy Drink.

Feb. 5: Bruton Smith, Concord, N.C., Mayor Scott Padgett, and Jay White, chairman of the Cabarrus County Board of Commissioners, broke ground for The Dragway @ Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte.

Feb. 6: 2007 NHRA POWERade Pro Stock Motorcycle world champ Matt Smith announced that he would attempt to defend his title in 2008 with the help of Kenny Korestsky's company, Nitro Fish.

Feb. 9: Procter & Gamble, through its Old Spice brand, was introduced as the major sponsor of the John Force Racing Ford Mustang driven by rookie Mike Neff.

Feb. 10: Schumacher moved into second place on the all-time NHRA Top Fuel wins list with a victory at the season-opening CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals. Funny Car star Robert Hight and Pro Stock front-runner Greg Anderson joined Schumacher in the winner's circle of historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona as the trio kicked off the year with thrilling final-round victories over Cory McClenathan, Cruz Pedregon, and Jeg Coughlin, respectively.

Feb. 13: The Motorsports Hall of Fame of America announced that Force, open-wheel racing champion Michael Andretti, and NASCAR legend Buddy Baker will be among those honored when the organization stages its annual induction ceremony Aug. 13 at the Fillmore Detroit.

Feb. 16: Two-time Funny Car world champion Frank Hawley renewed his NHRA Funny Car license at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Hawley ran a 4.875 at 318.62 mph behind the wheel of Mike Ashley's developmental car and a 4.901 at 325.61 mph in Melanie Troxel's ProCare Rx Dodge Charger R/T to fulfill his re-licensing requirements.

Feb. 24: Brittany and Courtney Force and Adria Hight accepted the Justice Brothers-Shav Glick Award on behalf of their father John Force, who was racing at the Checker Schuck's Kragen NHRA Nationals in Phoenix. The annual award, presented in conjunction with the Auto Club 500 at California Speedway, recognizes those who have made distinguished contributions to motorsports in California.

Feb. 25: O'Reilly Auto Parts signed a multiyear extension to be the title-rights sponsor of the O'Reilly NHRA Summer Nationals through 2010.

Feb. 26: Two-time NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series world champ Larry Dixon scored in Top Fuel at the 24th annual Checker Schuck's Kragen NHRA Nationals presented by Castrol at Firebird Int'l Raceway to collect his 42nd win, tying him with Tony Schumacher for second place in career class victories, 10 behind retired class-leading legend Joe Amato. Dixon beat Dave Grubnic to capture top honors at the second round of the 24-event NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Jack Beckman scored his fourth win in Funny Car and denied points leader Robert Hight his second straight win of the season, and V. Gaines scored his first Pro Stock win in seven years, winning the final round over 2006 season champ Jason Line.

Feb. 26: NHRA signed an onsite display deal with the Ford Customer Service Division that will enhance the automotive division's return to professional drag racing.

Feb. 28: NHRA announced that the Jegs ProMod Challenge exhibitions will be held at 10 NHRA national events in 2008, beginning at the 39th annual ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville.


March 2: John Buttera, 67, who left his stamp on the drag racing world in the 1970s building a series of winning Funny Cars and dragsters, died after a long battle with cancer.

March 5: Former NHRA Top Fuel driver Mike Smith announced that he would make his NHRA Funny Car debut during the ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals.

March 7: Andrew Hines blasted out a South Georgia Motorsports Park track record of 6.889 at 193.13 mph during testing, which was the first time that Hines had been in the 6.8s with his Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson.

March 8: Top stars from the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series participated in the sixth annual NHRA Tour de Charity at the Infineon Raceway Karting Center and raised $14,000 for Speedway Children's Charities.

March 8: Veteran drag racer John Shoemaker, 65, died from injuries suffered when his nostalgia Top Fuel dragster went out of control and crashed during a qualifying run at the March Meet at Auto Club Famoso Raceway in Bakersfield, Calif.

March 9: Jack Harris (Top Fuel) and Bucky Austin (Funny Car) led the winner's list at the 50th annual March Meet, which was the first event of the new NHRA Hot Rod Heritage series.

March 12: In a surprise announcement, sidelined Top Fuel racer Clay Millican confirmed that he will compete at the ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals.

March 14: The first meeting of the NHRA Sportsman Racer Advisory Council was held during the ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals.

March 16: Reigning NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series world champs Tony Schumacher, Tony Pedregon, and Jeg Coughlin collected victories at the 39th annual ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals. No. 1 qualifier Matt Guidera won Pro Stock Motorcycle with a blistering string of four six-second passes.

March 17: Former NHRA Top Fuel national event winner Pat Dakin, who hadn't piloted a fuel dragster since October 1998, returned to the cockpit following the ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals during a test session at Gainesville Raceway to make runs to renew his Top Fuel license.

March 18: Wayne McMurtry, NHRA's recently retired vice president of facilities operation and development and an NHRA employee since 1981, joined the board of directors of The Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum presented by Automobile Club of Southern California.

March 20: It was announced that NHRA POWERade Funny Car world champ Tony Pedregon and fellow NHRA racers Whit Bazemore and Marty Nothstein will participate in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Pro/Celebrity race, April 19.

March 20: Former NHRA Funny Car national event winner Al Hofmann, 60, died of a heart attack.

March 24: Team owner Dexter Tuttle announced that his Alan Bradshaw-driven Vis Viva Top Fueler would fly the colors of Shell's V-Power fuel additive at the POWERade events in Houston and Las Vegas.

March 24: NHRA announced weight adjustments for Pro Stock Motorcycle competitors; adding five pounds to all S&S Buell V-Twin entries; and removing five pounds from the two-valve Suzukis and 15 pounds from the four-valve Kawasakis.

March 25: Morgan Lucas Racing announced that crew chief and general manager John Stewart would tune both Lucas' Top Fuel dragster and that of teammate J.R. Todd following the departure of Richard Hogan.

March 25: NHRA announced that it has retained the services of L. Daniel Metz, Ph.D., P.E., to provide valuable technical analysis and engineering expertise to the sanctioning body on short- and long-term initiatives in both the Professional and Sportsman categories.

March 26: PiranaZ was announced as the sponsor of Junior Pippin's Pro Stock Motorcycle team for the 2008 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

March 27: Legendary Funny Car racer, fabricator, and race car restoration guru Pat Foster, 68, died after a short illness.

March 27: Tradicion Azul Tequila was announced as the sponsor of NHRA nitro Funny Car racer Bob Gilbertson.

March 30: Richard Hogan was hired to be the co-crew chief on the Mac Tools Top Fuel dragster driven by Doug Kalitta in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

March 30: Antron Brown became the first NHRA driver to win in both Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle with his first Top Fuel victory at the O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals at Houston Raceway Park while Del Worsham thwarted history by preventing Ashley Force from becoming the first female winner in Funny Car. Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also collected wins.


April 2: Prompted by the team's decision to part ways with crew chief Mike Kloeber, Chris Cunningham assumed full crew chief responsibilities for Funny Car rookie Bob Tasca III.

April 5: Charlie Westcott Jr. reaffirmed his status as the king of the Mopar Hemi Challenge with a dominating victory at the Jegs NHRA Cajun SPORTSnationals at No Problem Raceway Park.

April 6: Drag racing legend Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins underwent heart treatment after experiencing a drop in blood pressure but recovered quickly enough to be at the next event to help with Dave Northrop's Pro Stock team.

April 7: Kevin Self and Jeff Strickland led the winner's list as more than 400 racers took part in the annual Jegs NHRA Cajun SPORTSnationals at No Problem raceway Park in Belle Rose, La.

April 12: NHRA Top Fuel racer Doug Kalitta, a sprint-car racer early in his motorsports career, won the 15-lap Stars of the NHRA Thunder Roadster on the Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

April 13: It was announced that NASCAR racer and Daytona 500 winner Kevin Harvick and his wife, DeLana, have teamed with NHRA Drag Racing veteran Bob Vandergriff Jr. to explore the option of fielding a Top Fuel dragster in NHRA competition.

April 13: Cory McClenathan claimed his first Top Fuel win in more than a year, and Tim Wilkerson ended a winless drought that extended back to the 2004 Sonoma event during the final rounds of the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. They were joined in the winner's circle by former NHRA POWERade Pro Stock world champion Jason Line.

April 13: With her runner-up finish in Funny Car at the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals, Ashley Force made history by becoming the first woman to lead the POWERade points in that class.

April 14: NHRA announced that it had entered into a strategic alliance with global sports and entertainment company IMG, which will assist the premier drag racing sanctioning body as its exclusive outside sponsorship marketing agent.

April 14: Billy Williams, 63, who won the 1979 NHRA Pro Comp championship and twice won the U.S. Nationals, died. He had been hospitalized since he was critically injured March 22, 2002, after a crash in his Top Alcohol Funny Car in Rockingham, N.C.

April 18: NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle rookie Angie McBride and Indicom Electric signed a sponsorship deal for the next three NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series races.

April 19: Greg Carrillo, a 20-year veteran of NHRA Sportsman racing, announced that he will step into NHRA's Professional ranks later this season in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series with a new entry in Top Fuel.

April 19: Two-time and defending NHRA POWERade Series Funny Car world champion Tony Pedregon finished fifth in the Pro/Celebrity race at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. He was first among the drag racers — Whit Bazemore finished sixth overall and Marty Nothstein finished eighth — and second among the pros behind only Craftsman Truck Series driver Mike Skinner.

April 22: Paul Blevins, one of the successful campaigners in NHRA's Modified class with a U.S. Nationals title, world championship, divisional championships, and national records to his credit and later a standout racer in the Pro Stock ranks, died.

April 24: Former NHRA Pro Stock champion Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins and NHRA racing pioneer Art Arfons were inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame at the Speed Channel Dome in Talledega, Ala.

April 24: Pro Stock racer Jim Cunningham announced that he would return to competition at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals with his Ford Mustang entry.

April 24: Former NHRA Top Fuel world championship car owner and driver Gaines Markley, 66, died after a lengthy hospitalization.

April 25: In a joint announcement, it was revealed that Coca-Cola North America's Full Throttle energy drink will succeed POWERade as the title sponsor of NHRA's premier Professional drag racing series in 2009.

April 25: After an exhaustive review of 4,365 entries in a naming contest for Lowe's Motor Speedway's new dragstrip, Speedway Motorsports officials selected zMAX Dragway @ Concord as the official name for the facility.

April 27: After running just one of the season's first six events, Mike Ashley announced his return to NHRA Funny Car competition for five races, beginning with the O'Reilly NHRA Midwest Nationals.

April 27: Ashley Force etched her name into the annals of drag racing history when she defeated her father, John, in the final round at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals to become the first woman to win an NHRA Funny Car title. Joining Force in the winner's circle were Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock), and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Coming Sunday: May through August

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