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By Rob Geiger, NHRA.com
Back-to-back Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher added his name to a couple more records Sunday, capping a huge weekend and year for Don Schumacher Racing with a win at the 41st annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals. Schumacher was joined by Funny Car's Tony Pedregon, Pro Stock's Jeg Coughlin, and Pro Stock Motorcycle's Ryan Schnitz in the final winner's circle celebration of the 2005 NHRA POWERade season. Sunday's win was the fifth straight for Schumacher and marked his seventh consecutive final-round appearance, which are both class records. But he might not have been the happiest guy in the DSR camp because Funny Car teammate Gary Scelzi won his first flopper championship earlier in the day, and Pro Stock teammate Coughlin celebrated his first win in over two years. Pedregon and Schnitz also had reasons to smile as they head into the off-season on mini winning streaks of their own, and Pro Stock Motorcycle runner-up Andrew Hines kept his series crown intact.
Back-to-back Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher added his name to a couple more records Sunday, capping a huge weekend and year for Don Schumacher Racing with a win at the 41st annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals. Schumacher was joined by Funny Car's Tony Pedregon, Pro Stock's Jeg Coughlin, and Pro Stock Motorcycle's Ryan Schnitz in the final winner's circle celebration of the 2005 NHRA POWERade season.
Sunday's win was the fifth straight for Schumacher and marked his seventh consecutive final-round appearance, which are both class records. But he might not have been the happiest guy in the DSR camp because Funny Car teammate Gary Scelzi won his first flopper championship earlier in the day, and Pro Stock teammate Coughlin celebrated his first win in over two years. Pedregon and Schnitz also had reasons to smile as they head into the off-season on mini winning streaks of their own, and Pro Stock Motorcycle runner-up Andrew Hines kept his series crown intact.
"With the momentum we have right now, I really don't want to stop racing," Schumacher said. "At the same time, I'm glad to have a break. I'm tired. I want to go home and play with my kids and watch them grow for a few months. We have a lot of family things planned, and I'm excited about that.
"It was really big for this team to win five in a row and get that record. It just became a goal they set for themselves, and they wanted it. I had the pressure of not letting them down because they gave me a great car every round. It was a tough day. Melanie was anxious to get her first win, and she was running great all day. Larry [Dixon] was tough. It was [crew chief Dick] LaHaie's last race, and they were going for broke. Brandon [Bernstein] had run a 4.4 pass. This was a tough win to get, so it's even more satisfying."
The U.S. Army rail got fractionally slower as the early rounds progressed, but Schumacher still looked strong in wins over John Smith, Dixon, and Bernstein. His slowest pass of the earlier rounds was a 4.528, which awarded lane choice to Troxel by .003-second.
Troxel was picture-perfect in reaching her second final in 40 Professional starts. She beat driving instructor Doug Foley with a 4.51, Morgan Lucas with a 4.53, and David Baca with a 4.52. After her pass against Baca, Troxel's Skull Gear rail suffered a massive engine explosion, and she ultimately ended up in the sand trap.
Medlen's fate was cast in the semi's when he encountered trouble getting his parachutes to deploy after beating Tommy Johnson Jr. with a 4.74 and ended up in the sand trap. Medlen was unhurt in the incident, but his Castrol Syntec Ford was damaged enough that his crew chief and father, John Medlen, took one look at the carnage and initially declared they wouldn't return for the final.
With help from crewmembers from all three of Force's teams, the group worked furiously to get Medlen up to the line. They succeeded in that he was able to complete a burnout and stage the car, but it was obvious they had no intention of letting him fly down the track. The hoped-for mistake by Pedregon never materialized.
"This is exactly the way you want to finish a year," said Pedregon, who jumped from ninth to seventh in the standings. "This is a good day fishing for a drag racer. We beat some big names and maybe spoiled it for some people when I beat John in the second round, but we came here to win, and that's what we did.
"I felt some big emotion when I beat John. I knew what it meant for him, and we all know he gave me my start. I spent a lot of time with him, a lot of my life, and it was bittersweet knocking him out of the title, but if I didn't give him 100 percent, he would have been mad at me. That's the way he is.
"We're hitting our stride, and Cruz and I have become closer than ever. We had our moments this year, but we overcame them together, and I really think we'll be tough in 2006. Both of us."
Pedregon had to beat brothers Frank and Cruz to reach his third final of the year and 52nd of all time. He opened with a 4.75-second victory over Frank, then took out former boss Force on a holeshot in the quarterfinals before eliminating Cruz with a 4.73 in the semi's.
In his advance to the final, Medlen beat Tony Bartone, teammate Robert Hight, and Johnson to move his trophy-round record to 4-3.
It would have been a close race as Coughlin ran a 6.722 at 204.73 mph to Martino's 6.737 at 205.54 mph, but the Jeg's Mail Order Dodge Stratus R/T crew got to celebrate a few seconds early as the red light glowed in Martino's lane.
"We had a good run today, and it's all on account of [crew chief] Bob Glidden and the crew," said Coughlin, who confirmed rumors that he was leaving Don Schumacher Racing. "We qualified well on Thursday and Friday, but Saturday morning we hurt the motor. We put the backup one in and we dropped off, so Bob and the guys basically spent the night fixing the primary motor, and their work obviously paid off.
"The guys deserved this. If effort won trophies, we'd have earned a bunch of them this year. It's been about one year since this team was formed, and I know the crew guys and Bob haven't had many days off, and their days are usually 14 to 16 hours long. So naturally they're very, very excited.
"I'm easing off to the side for a while. My home is in the NHRA, but things didn't work out here exactly the way I had hoped. I started questioning if I was still enjoying myself midsummer, and when that happens, it suddenly hits you that you need to step back and reevaluate what you're doing. I'll be back, but I need a break."
Both Coughlin and Martino reached the final due to superior driving ability. Coughlin's 52nd chance at a trophy came after wins over Allen Johnson, champion Greg Anderson, and reigning rookie of the year Jason Line. Coughlin's win over Anderson came on a huge .004- to .032-second holeshot, which scared Line into a -.009 red-light.
Driving Larry Morgan's second zMax Micro Lubricants Dodge Stratus R/T, Martino rode consecutive holeshot wins past Erica Enders and Richie Stevens Jr. before getting a free pass against a red-lighting Kurt Johnson, who was .011-second early. Martino posted a .005 light opposite Enders and a .009 against Stevens. This was his 12th final.
"This win is every bit as special as the first two, maybe even more, because this is Pomona," said Schnitz, who became the only three-time winner in the class this year. "Winning the Finals and putting your name with the other riders who have won here is really something.
"I'm excited about the performance of this team and the momentum we have. We need a marketing partner to sponsor this bike, and that's what we'll spend our time in the off-season trying to find. I hope this win and having more wins than everyone else in the class will get us some extra attention."
Schnitz had a fairly easy ride to his fourth final, piloting his Muzzys.com Buell V-Twin past Tom Bradford, Antron Brown, and Craig Treble.
Hines kept his emotions in check after clinching his second title in round one, reaching his 10th trophy round with wins over Chris Rivas, Mike Berry, and Chip Ellis.
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