Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals
The 2003 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series raced to a thrilling conclusion at Pomona Raceway where Greg Anderson won his NHRA record 12th Pro Stock title of the season, edging Kurt Johnson in a close final round, 6.73 to 6.74.
Joining Anderson in the winner's circle at the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals were Kenny Bernstein, who concluded his career on a winning note, beating Scott Kalitta in a tire-smoking final, 6.03 to 14.65; Del Worsham, who won a wild Funny Car final, getting the trophy despite red-lighting when teammate Cory Lee crossed the centerline; and Craig Treble, who won his second straight national event, taking the trophy on Angelle Savoie's foul.
Showing the savvy of his 34 years of NHRA drag racing, Bernstein ended his career in grand style with a pedalfest win against Scott Kalitta that featured him getting on-and-off the throttle seven times. Somehow, through all of seesaw moves that his dragster made as he applied and reapplied 8,000 horsepower to the ground, Bernstein managed to keep his car in his lane and arrive at the finish line ahead of Kalitta.
This was the 69th victory of Bernstein's career, which was highlighted by six championships, two in Top Fuel and four in Funny Car. He retires as the only driver to have won titles in both categories. Bernstein has won four of the last five races on tour.
"Four out of five, I quit," Bernstein said with a laugh. "What a pass that one was. I got sideways so many times I lost count. I do remember that at one point I thought I was going to crash. I'm thinking, 'Oh, this will be a great way to end your career. Lose the final because you crashed.' I just couldn't get the car to hook up. The moment I hit the throttle it would spin the tires.
"Last year I said that was it [for my career.] Then [son] Brandon had his accident and I had to get back in the car so I don't want to say anything this time. Never say never. If Brandon got hurt again, God forbid, or he just didn't like it and wanted out, then I might drive again.
"Last year was a bummer losing in the first round when I thought it was my last race. This is the way you're supposed to go out, on a winning streak like this. I feel great."
Just as it has been for the last few months, Bernstein's Budweiser machine wasn't the quickest or the fastest dragster on the property, but it was extremely consistent. He used a 4.57 to beat Clay Millican, a 4.50 against Doug Kalitta, and a 4.58 opposite Cory McClenathan to reach the 118th final of his career.
Two-time series champion Scott Kalitta reached his second final of the year and the 31st of his career by outrunning Scott Weis, Larry Dixon, and Tony Schumacher. Both Dixon and Schumacher smoked their tires, but Kalitta would have been tough to beat as he posted a 4.49 and a 4.52, respectively, opposite them.
Doug Kalitta set the national speed record during the first round when he reached 333.25 mph in his Mac Tools dragster, a mark he had already backed up in qualifying. The fastest speed in history was recorded earlier this year by Doug's cousin, Scott, who topped out at 333.95 mph, but Scott didn't back the mark up to make it official. Top Fuel results
Funny Car winner Worsham scored one of the rarest wins in drag racing when he red-lighted with a -.046 second foul only to have his teammate, Cory Lee, cross the centerline, which awarded Worsham his third trophy of the year on NHRA's "first or worst" rule.
Lee was chasing Worsham at the time of his miscue, apparently unaware of the fact he could simply coast to what would have been his first win. His car carried the front wheels towards the centerline and by the time he got out of the throttle he could not avoid the two mid-track reflectors that record E.T. and speed.
"I can't believe I had a brain fade like that and red-lit," Worsham said. "I felt I had the win if we could just race but that was a huge, huge mistake on my part. To make a mistake like that and come out with a win is definitely a lucky deal for me. I've had some bad luck in the past and lost races I should have won so maybe it's balancing back out a little bit.
"I had no idea he had crossed the centerline. My car was trucking but I saw the red-light when I went by the Tree. I got down there and jumped on the radio and apologized to my crew. But they were like, 'No wait, you won, dude.' Then I just lost my mind. It's a hell of a way to win a race."
Worsham's Checker, Schuck's Kragen Pontiac carried him to his fifth money round of the 2003 season with wins over Scotty Cannon, Whit Bazemore (who broke), and Tim Wilkerson. The margin of victory over Wilkerson was a mere .003-second, the closest race of the day.
Driving the Artisan Home Entertainment Terminator 2 car, Lee raced to his second career final by taking out Tommy Johnson Jr., new champ Tony Pedregon, and Gary Scelzi. Lee flirted with the centerline against Scelzi, which would have disqualified him one round early. But officials determined he touched the line but didn't cross over it, thereby making his pass official. The last time Lee was in the final was at the 1999 Gatornationals, where he lost to John Force. Funny Car results
Anderson's 6.735- to 6.749-second win over Kurt Johnson in the Pro Stock final was his 12th of the year, which set a single-season record for victories in the class. He also pushed his number of elimination-round wins to 67, an all-time single-season mark that spans all Professional categories.
Kurt Johnson, who finished second to Anderson in the POWERade points, simply had no answer for his good friend on the racetrack this year. Overall, Anderson posted a 10-1 record against K.J., including a perfect 6-0 mark in head-to-head final rounds.
"What a fantastic season from start to finish," Anderson said. "Kurt and I have been the cream of the crop and we've had some tremendous battles all year. I've just been lucky enough to come out on top of most of them.
"All these goals we've chased have just kind of come up along the way. You set a goal to win a race or win the title or whatever, and then you accomplish those goals and you move on to the next one. It's incredible to me that we passed [Darrell Alderman's] mark for wins in a season. The level of competition in this class leads me to think that one might last a good while.
"I can't even fathom bettering one of John Force's records. All I can say about that is that it's a doggone good feeling. You see guys slip into test mode after they clinch the championship but we decided not to do that. We wanted to get after these records and finish strong so the other guys would worry about us all off-season. Half of the battle out here is the mental games and intimidation. We have that now."
Starting the day as the low qualifier, Anderson zoomed past Allen Johnson, Warren Johnson, and Bruce Allen to put his Vegas General Construction Pontiac Grand Am in the 15th trophy round of the year. Anderson posted the quickest E.T. of every round, including the final against Kurt Johnson.
Kurt Johnson, who kept the special-edition KISS scheme on his ACDelco Chevrolet Cavalier this weekend, reached his landmark 50th career final round by dismissing Troy Coughlin, Jeg Coughlin Jr., and Mike Edwards with a string of mid-6.7 second passes. Pro Stock results
In a repeat of the last NHRA stop in Las Vegas, Treble matched up with former three-time champion Angelle Savoie in the final round. This time, Treble earned his second win in as many races at the starting line when Savoie left the starting line early and was disqualified with a -.013-second reaction time. The foul might not have mattered as Treble posted a 7.129 at 184.07 mph to Savoie's trailing 7.136 at 191.10 mph.
The victory salvaged an otherwise forgettable season for Treble, a championship contender who ended up fifth in the points. He finished 2-2 in four final-round appearances, and dropped Savoie to an even 3-3 when the trophy was on the line this year.
"I wish we could have had this bike in Atlanta," Treble said. "This thing is perfect for me. Even Matt [Hines] was like, 'Wow, I don't think I want to come back now.' He weighs 175 and I weigh 150 and the way we moved things around it just made for a perfect fit.
"This was a great way to end a rotten year. What a rollercoaster ride. We started strong, thinking about the title. Then we hurt a motor. Then we had a DNQ. I've blown up a few motors. It's just been crazy.
"I have to give all the credit to [engine suppliers] Vance & Hines. They are the sole reason I'm here, the sole reason we've won these last two races, and the sole reason I have this deal with Matco."
Atop former champion Matt Hines' borrowed Suzuki, Treble fought through to his seventh career win with elimination-round victories over Fred Camarena, Steve Johnson, Mike Berry, and Savoie. His Matco Tools/NitroFish bike was the quickest of the first two rounds.
U.S. Army rider Savoie beat Karen Stoffer, GT Tonglet, and Michael Phillips to reach the 49th final round of her 105-race career. Savoie's best pass of the early rounds was a 7.12, which she ran in the semifinals. The pass gave her lane choice over Treble, which she subsequently negated with the fourth red-light of her '03 campaign. Pro Stock Bike results
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