K&N Filters Winternationals
If the 44th annual K&N Filters Winternationals are any indication of what lies ahead this season then NHRA fans better cinch their seatbelts a little tighter because the 2004 POWERade Drag Racing Series should provide quite a ride. Tony Schumacher, Jerry Toliver, and Greg Anderson somehow found a way to emerge victorious from one of the quickest and fastest races ever contested.
After running 4.4-second passes all day, Schumacher (pictured) got a free pass when Doug Kalitta suffered a mechanical failure which caused the fuel line to come loose while he was staging for the final. In Funny Car, No. 15 qualifier Toliver fought through a tough field for the first win ever for a Toyota Celica. As expected, it was more of the same in Pro Stock where Greg Anderson blew away Warren Johnson for the trophy.
It was a shame that Kalitta couldn't answer the call in the final round. He and Schumacher had the two best cars on the property Sunday, albeit by a small margin, and the near-capacity crowd wanted to see some final-round fireworks. Instead, Schumacher got the bye and, to further frustrate Kalitta, the Army car encountered engine trouble during the run and Schumacher only posted a 4.659 at 243.55 mph.
This was the 12th career victory for Schumacher and the fifth since crew chief Alan Johnson joined the team last May. This was also Schumacher's first victory at Pomona Raceway.
"Our car was awesome but we got lucky in the final," Schumacher said. "We wanted to set the record and get those extra 20 points, so I staged shallow. We were on a good run and something went wrong, so I lifted. With the oildown penalty points, it didn't make any sense to hold 'er down because I was on a single.
"Having the quickest car can make you nervous. I was real nervous before the first round and my knees didn't stop shaking until after the third round. People are telling you that you have a good chance of winning because you have such a good car that, now, as the driver, all you can do is [be the reason you] lose. I don't want to be the weak link and let my teammates down like happened at Pomona last fall. Believe me, when they told me I had a single, I was okay with it."
Starting from the No. 1 qualifying spot, Mac Tools racer Kalitta beat Scott Weis, reigning champ Larry Dixon, and new teammate Dave Grubnic to reach his 33rd career final round. His 4.482 in round 2 made him the quickest of the session.
Schumacher and the U.S. Army gang were all business from the opening bell, racing to their 32nd money round by beating Rhonda Hartman-Smith, David Baca, and Brandon Bernstein with a string of 4.4-second runs.
Some of the more mind-boggling numbers on the day include Schumacher's 4.451 in the opening round, which was the fourth quickest pass of all time. This was also the first time that all four semifinalists earned their spot in the final four with 4.4-second passes. For Bernstein and Grubnic, their quarterfinal times of 4.487 and 4.492 made them the 11th and 12th members of the 4.4-second club, respectively. Top Fuel results
If Toliver had his way, every race would take place in Pomona where three of his five career wins have occurred. The outspoken driver from Canyon Lake, Calif., who returned to the sport this season after a two-year absence, needed some time to get up to speed, but by the time he found his pace he was tough to beat.
The final was a good example. He started by giving up a .073 to .132-second advantage to former schoolteacher Gary Densham. But downtrack Toliver managed to catch and pass Densham, who needed to apply a quick slap to the throttle to regain traction, and went on to win handily, 4.821 at 319.29 mph to Densham's 4.955 at 327.11 mph.
"It's absolutely wonderful to be back," Toliver said. "I've been out for a year and eight months and there were times when I thought I might never get back out here, let alone win a national event. I promised myself that if I ever did I would savior this moment and appreciate it more.
"I think when it's your day it's just your day. Everything kind of fell into place for us. We had some engine problems after the second round and had to change engines twice in the pits. We barely made it up to the starting line for the semifinals. If [Alcohol Dragster racer Darryl Hitchman] hadn't gone into the sandtrap between rounds, we wouldn't have made it. I owe him a case of beer."
Toliver's Schick Quattro Toyota Celica barely made the field, waiting until the last qualifying session to earn the 15th slot. But after an unlikely 4.88-second victory over Eric Medlen, who had qualified near the top of the field but failed to find traction Sunday, he got a red-light gift from Cory Lee, before powering to his best pass ever against semifinal foe Del Worsham.
Toliver's 4.738 at 328.22 mph versus Worsham not only gave him lane choice in the final but it was the third fastest Funny Car run ever. Then, as impressive as it was, Densham's pedal job in the final couldn't stop Toliver from collecting his fifth career victory.
A two-time runner-up at his home track, Densham still has to be pleased with the performance of his Auto Club of Southern California Mustang. He posted three straight 4.7-second runs in victories over Phil Burkart Jr., John Force, and Gary Scelzi to reach his 16th career final. Funny Car results
Anderson made it back-to-back wins at Pomona as the winner of the Auto Club NHRA Finals three months ago returned to win again at the season opener. This time Anderson beat his former employer Johnson in the final round with a convincing victory that left little doubt of who is in control of the class.
Although he didn't need it, Anderson clocked his best reaction time of the day in the final to get a huge jump on Johnson, .036 to .100 seconds. Then the reigning champ simply drove away from the six-time champ to win with a 6.713 at 205.76 mph over W.J.'s 6.761 at 204.23 mph.
"I didn't realize it but that's the first time I've beaten Warren in a final," said a very pleased Anderson. "When I roll up there against Warren I don't need any stats because it's certainly a grudge match. It's gotten real tough between us lately; it seems like the more success I have, the tougher things get and the relationship is strained. With all of the talk over the offseason, that's probably the best way this race could end for me: beating him in the final.
"I had an awesome car all weekend. This car is bad. I honestly can say that I don't think I made a perfect run this weekend and it was still fast. We have a great car with a lot of power under the hood. We made a lot gains in the power department over the winter and obviously got ahead of the learning curve on the beadlock wheels. It has us very pumped up. I can't wait to get to the next race."
After resetting his own Pomona Raceway record in a Round 1 win over Mike Corvo Jr. with a 6.706 at 206.13, Vegas General Construction pro Anderson actually slowed down on his way to his 28th career final. He used a 6.710 to beat Mike Edwards in the second session and a 6.714 to edge Larry Morgan in the semis. Nevertheless, he had the quickest car of every single round of action this weekend en route to his 17th win.
Johnson used the exact opposite tact to reach his record 143rd trophy round. After opening with a 6.760 versus Allen Johnson (no relation), the GM Performance Parts Pontiac Grand Am driver improved to a 6.758 against rookie Shaun Carlson, and a 6.748 opposite his son Kurt. Pro Stock results
Mitch Myers EPHA A/Fuel Dragster took a solo for the Top Alcohol Dragster crown when Darryl Hitchman was unable to repair his dragster after going into the catch net after a winning semifinal run. Myers put on a show for the fans with a 5.38 at 260.06 mph. In a similar scenario, Dennis Taylor claimed Alcohol Funny Car after neither Doug Gordon, who was shut off for an oil leak, nor Marc White, who couldn't fire, made it to the line in the semifinals to provide him a final-round opponent.
Three other final rounds also were determined on what amounted to bye runs. Reigning Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series national champ Dean Carter kicked off his title defense in fine fashion with a victory at the K&N Filters Winternationals when Brett Brown's E/EA lit the foul bulb. Al Corda red-lighted in his GT/CA '98 Firebird in the Super Stock final against Abe Loewen's SS/DM '98 Grand Am, Bernie Cunningham red-lighted in his C/FIA '98 Firebird to make Toby Lang's G/SA 69 Chevelle a winner in Stock,
In Super Gas, two-time national event champ Bob Harris Jr. scored again with his '00 Corvette, winning a doubel-breakout finale, 9.87 to 9.86, against John Matassa.
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