Jerry Toliver will be a force to be reckoned with in Funny Car, as the winner of the Automobile Club of Southern California Finals at Pomona Raceway last November repeated at the Winternationals, and did it by defeating defending event champ Pedregon.
Drag racing's top bracket finished the day in Hollywood fashion with Schumacher squaring off against Scelzi.
The reigning king did everything he could to show he was the new man to beat in his Exide dragster. He left Scelzi at the starting line, reacting to the light in .426-second against Scelzi's .466-second launch, but the savvy former champ caught and passed his nemesis to take the win in 4.613 seconds at 317.79 mph against Schumacher's 4.712 at 309.56.
"This is my 15th win, and I have to tell you it feels every bit as good as the first one," Scelzi said. "I like rivalries, but I don't like eating crow. Tony's the champ right now, and he might be the champ again this year, but to beat him on this day with the team working together the way it did is extra special.
"Tony's got the No. 1 on his car and it burns us up every time we see it go by. That No. 1 means a lot to me and (crew chief) Alan Johnson. I'd be lying if I said we don't want it back.
"I have to mention how proud I am to be associated with NHRA Winston Drag Racing. These new rules made for a busy day today, but the show we put on for the fans made it worthwhile. This is the next generation of drag racing."
Scelzi stayed in the 4.6's all day, beating Tim Gibson, Cory McClenathan, and Larry Dixon to get to Schumacher. Team Exide got the better of 1999 IHRA champ Don Lampus, Doug Kalitta, and Joe Amato before settling for second place. Top Fuel results
World Wrestling Federation driver Toliver made it two wins in a row with a crowd-pleasing split-second victory over Castrol's Pedregon. Toliver used a huge holeshot at the starting line, .456-second to .507-second, to eke out the win by one-hundredth of a second.
It was the second Pro title for the Huntington Beach, Calif., resident, who also won at Pomona Raceway at the season-ending Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals in November.
"We're running for the championship this year, and this as good a start as we could ask for," Toliver said. "I was nervous every round, but I kept saying to myself, 'Hey, to be the champ, you have to beat these guys all the time.'
"I was in a zone today. My lights were good and the car was running lap after lap in awesome times. We had a 4.94, 4.93, 4.95, and a 4.97 -- that's awesome. [Crew chief] Dale Armstrong has done such a good job with this car that my confidence is sky high."
Toliver downed Bob Gilbertson, Whit Bazemore, and Gary Densham earlier in the day, covering the strip in less than five seconds on every trip. Pedregon took care of Johnny Gray, his boss -- nine-time Winston champ John Force -- and Bruce Sarver to reach the final. Funny Car results
Pro Stock came down to a battle of 1999 Winston champion Warren Johnson and runner-up Jeg Coughlin. On this day the Jeg's Mail Order Cutlass was the quickest machine, cruising by Johnson's GM Goodwrench Service Plus Trans Am in 6.894 seconds at 199.17 mph versus Johnson's 6.953 at 197.65 mph.
"We have such a strong team and it showed today," Coughlin said. "Between my brother Troy and myself, we accounted for the low elapsed time in seven of the eight rounds of competition this weekend. That's the sort of dominance that's usually reserved for Warren Johnson.
Jeg Coughlin Jr.
"The NHRA's new spec fuel rule has brought everyone in this class closer together [in performance], and our engine builder Richard Maskin has obviously done a good job of matching it to our Jeg's Mail Order Oldsmobiles.
"This is a great start, but I know we have to do this several more times to get where we want to be."
Jeggie beat newcomer John Fairleigh, Greg Anderson, and Tom Martino before dismissing Johnson. Starting out of the 12th spot, W.J. drove past Bruce Allen, Richie "the Kid" Stevens, and George Marnell prior to falling in the final. Pro Stock results
Off season? What off season? Pro Stock Truck champion Bob Panella Jr. hasn't missed a beat since the end of last year, starting the new season on top with a win at the AutoZone Winternationals.
Panella powered by upstart Greg Stanfield in a thrilling final round to take the title at the year's first race. Stanfield got the early jump with an otherworldly .406 light, but Panella wasn't far behind with a .415 launch. Before half-track Panella's bright yellow machine had moved into the lead, and he went on to take the win in 7.544 seconds at 178.58 mph against Stanfield's 7.568, 179.09.
Bob Panella Jr.
"That was probably the most intense run I've had in a long time," Panella said. "I was so revved up I almost went in the dirt at the other end. I want to defend my title the best I can and I really wanted to start off strong. I knew Greg would be tough; he used to be my teammate.
"This class is growing so fast with big-time teams. There are 15 or 20 trucks that can give our Chevy S-10 hell every weekend. But I love it, the excitement is unbelievable and I think it'll stay this way all year."
Starting from the No. 2 qualifying position, Panella beat Brian Self, teammate Jeff Gracia, and John Coughlin to reach the final. Stanfield collected wins over Scott Tidwell, Rick Jones, and top qualifier Stevie Johns en route to the final. Pro Stock Truck results
Reigning Federal-Mogul Dragster champion Rick Santos continued his domination of the class with a string of 5.3-second runs that led to the AutoZone Winternationals title. Driving his Oakwood Homes dragster, Santos claimed the win with a 5.36 in the final against Dale Carlson, who trailed with a 5.44 effort.
Federal-Mogul Dragster results
Federal-Mogul Funny Car low qualifier Larry Miner won his second career national-event title with a 5.68 to 5.72 win over former Alcohol Dragster national champion Jay Payne.
Federal-Mogul Funny Car results
Bryan Morrison, of nearby Chino Hills, Calif., scored his first career national event win, driving his B/SM '92 Camaro to a final-round defeat of NHRA Finals champ Jeff Gillette's B/ED.Comp results
Bill Bennett claimed the Super Stock title in his GT/EA '87 Camaro after his final round opponent, Keri Angeles, fouled in her SS/GA '68 Pontiac.
Super Stock results
Reigning Federal-Mogul Stock champ Don Little began his title defense with a victory as he drove his Hemi-powered A/SA '70 Barracuda to a perfect 10.36 on his 10.36 dial to stop Toby Lang, who broke out with a .02-under 11.83 in his G/SA '69 Chevelle.
In Super Comp, Kyle Seipel drove his Helmet City dragster to a victory after a double-breakout win over first-time finalist Mark Cavar, 8.88 to 8.86.
Super Comp results
Bob Herr claimed his first NHRA national event win in Super Gas after downing Steve Williams in the Pomona final. Herr drove his '63 Corvette to a 9.96 win over Williams, who trailed with a 9.99 in his '95 Beretta.
Super Gas results