Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals
Arend can't quite ace Finals test
Arend not only matched his Indy No. 1 accomplishment, he did it here in exactly the same manner, putting a great lap on the board on his first run and then holding on to that time throughout the rest of qualifying. Coincidentally, Pomona qualifying is just like Indy's, in that it is spread over three days, instead of the standard two, so Arend had the pleasure of meeting the press, as the top qualifier, three different times prior to the race on Sunday. Here, it was a huge 4.781 on Thursday afternoon that stunned the rest of the class and put Arend out of reach. Try as they may, the rest of the enormous Funny Car contingent could not beat the mark, and Arend finished in the No. 1 spot for the second time in six races.
"That was pretty gigantic to come out of the box and put a 4.78 on the board, and it sure took the pressure off," Arend said. "When you show up at the track, and there are 26 Funny Cars entered for the race, it doesn't matter what cars they are or who is driving, it's going to put huge pressure on everyone who's trying to be in the top 16.
"Once we ran the 4.78, I wasn't thinking in terms of holding on to the top spot, I was just relieved because I was 99 percent sure that run would make the show. When you've got the Force cars, the Schumacher cars, and all these other great teams here, you kind of expect some of them to burst your bubble, but apparently that was a heck of a lap because no one could beat it. It's cool going up to the tower to meet the reporters, and I made a point of enjoying every second of it."
The first truly cruel twist of fate that then faced Arend was his first round opponent. Robert Hight and Gary Scelzi came into this race with a miniscule chance of catching Tony Pedregon for the championship, and the only reasonable path was the one that started with Pedregon not making the field. It almost happened, but Pedregon dodged a few bullets in qualifying session No. 4 and ended up clinging to the 16th spot, creating a first-round pairing with the top dog, Jeff Arend.
"There's our season in a nutshell," Arend said. "We qualify number one at one of the toughest races of the year, and we get the guy who all but has the championship wrapped up in round one. Go figure. Add to that the year-long trend where number one teams have been getting bounced right out of the race early and often, and you know I went to bed last night thinking about how round one was going to go. I just didn't want my season, and my tenure as the blue team driver, to end that early."
Coming into first round with the memory of his
In round two, Arend faced off with former blue team driver Phil Burkart, who is filling in for John Force.
"We were joking about that, me versus Phil, and we were saying that if Johnny Gray and Frankie Pedregon were here, we'd have the whole history of the blue team in attendance," Arend said. "There's no bad blood between me and Phil, and you know he's driving John Force's car, so all you can have is respect. I'm happy he's gotten this chance, and he has really earned it. I just wanted to see if I could stall the ending a little longer."
At the light, Burkart jumped out to a quick lead, but the most telling tale was on the left bank of Arend's header pipes, where one cylinder failed to light at the hit of the throttle. The lack of power and downforce on the left side of the car cause the blue CSK Chevy to drift left off the line, and after Arend corrected that drift, the dropped cylinder came back to life. The boost of power was too much for the drive shaft to handle, and the eventual outcome was instant tire spin.
Arend pedaled the car immediately, and it did hook up and power down the track, but once he was nearing the 800-foot mark and could see Burkart nearing the finish line, there was no use in continuing the pursuit. This time, sadly, it was over.
"I knew it dropped a hole at the hit, because it was sluggish and it went left right out of the gate," Arend said. "I got it straightened out, and then the cylinder caught again, I guess, because the next thing I knew my sluggish race car was blowing the tires off. It did hook up, but I saw him out there and we didn't have enough race track to catch him. Boom, it's all over.
"The key thing now is to hug each one of these guys before the night is over, to thank all the CSK people, and to share a good cigar with Chuck Worsham. We're not giving up, and we have some good people working on the sponsorship front, but I'm not pinning my hopes on that. I'm a realist, but I'm always optimistic. I think I proved a lot this year, running for such a great team, and I hope people saw that. We'll just see how it all works out, but nothing would be better than to stay here at Worsham Racing, if we can somehow find a way to get this car back on the track.
"Finally, I want to name the people I worked with here, so that they know how much I respect them and have enjoyed being part of this. Starting at the top, with
For all of us at Worsham Racing, this writer is compelled to inform Mr. Arend that the honor was all ours.
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