Houston: Force Seeling clinch championship

BAYTOWN, Texas - John Force and Angelle Seeling clinched 2000 NHRA Winston championships in their respective categories Sunday at the Matco Tools SuperNationals presented by Racing Champions at Houston Raceway Park. Cory McClenathan, Tony ...

BAYTOWN, Texas - John Force and Angelle Seeling clinched 2000 NHRA Winston championships in their respective categories Sunday at the Matco Tools SuperNationals presented by Racing Champions at Houston Raceway Park.

Cory McClenathan, Tony Pedregon, Warren Johnson and Dave Schultz were winners of the $1.8 million race, the 21st of 23 events in the $45 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. Seeling joined three-time NHRA Top Fuel champ Shirley Muldowney as the only female professional champions in NHRA history, taking her first crown in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Force also made drag racing history, locking up his 10th Funny Car title and tying retired Pro Stock driver Bob Glidden with the most championships in the history of the sport. Seeling, who lost on a holeshot in the second round of eliminations, secured the title when Matt Hines also posted an uncharacteristic second round loss. "I was so disappointed when I lost because I thought I was going to have to wait until Pomona," said Seeling. "I couldn't believe it when they said Matt lost too. I kept asking, 'Did I win? Did I win?' They told me I had did it, that it was over -- that I was the Winston champion. Now I can go to Pomona and relax, focus and have fun. I'm so happy to win it here in Houston. It's awesome." Force wrapped up his championship when Ron Capps lost in the second round. "(Jerry) Toliver and Capps gave us a good run for the money," said Force. "We get $200,000 from Winston for winning this deal and we're going to take all of it and put it back in our hot rod. I've got to thank my two teams for sticking together and making this happen." McClenathan debuted a new car and scored his first Top Fuel victory of the season, taking a single pass when Cinderella-finalist Bobby Baldwin's dragster broke at the starting line. McClenathan drove his MBNA dragster to a spectacular 4.564 second blast at 318.24 mph anyway, taking the 25th victory of his career and second at HRP in impressive fashion. "There were no gimmes out there today," said McClenathan, who last won at the '99 U.S. Nationals. "I told Wes (Cerny, crew chief) let's run a 4.50 and show people that we earned this one and we would have won no matter if it was Gary Scelzi or Bobby Baldwin in that final. Wes and the guys did a great job with this new car. They put it together in two days and it responded well." It was a bittersweet victory for McClenathan, who learned three weeks ago that team owner Joe Gibbs is ending his drag racing operation at the end of the season. "It kinda makes me sad that this didn't happen 15 races ago," said the Anaheim, Calif. driver, who used a string of powerful 4.50-second runs to defeat Bill Wash, Doug Kalitta and Bob Vandergriff to advance to the final round. "If it would've, I might not be looking for a job right now." Scelzi, who lost in the first round to Joe Amato when his Team Winston dragster lost traction, increased his Winston points lead to 151 over Tony Schumacher. Larry Dixon, who also lost in the first round, is third overall, 225 behind Scelzi. Pedregon outran newly crowned series champ Force in the Funny Car final, picking up his 10th career victory. Pedregon drove his Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang to a 4.906 at 309.27, powering away from Force's Castrol GTX 'Frankenstein'-themed Mustang, which lost traction and posted a 5.293 at 287.41. "I don't know what it is about this place, but maybe I should start looking to buy some property around here," said Pedregon, who defeated Dean Skuza, Johnny Gray and Whit Bazemore to advance to the final and pick up his third HRP victory. "It seems like it's been a long time since we've won, so that makes this win even more special." Pedregon said he had nothing to lose in the final round confrontation with his Funny Car-dominating boss. "He told me he was nervous before the final, and I told him that I wasn't nervous at all," said Pedregon with a grin. "I get a little more focused going against a guy with 90 wins and 10 championships. I was ready. We're just looking to finish the season strong and hopefully this gives us some momentum heading in that direction." Johnson scored his 81st Pro Stock victory, defeating first time finalist Brad Jeter. Johnson covered the distance in 6.914 at 199.40 in his GM Goodwrench Pontiac Firebird, while Jeter's Dynagear Firebird crossed the finish line a tick slower at 6.975 at 197.94. "I'd kinda like to see more of these days," said Johnson, who last won at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway earlier in the season. "I think we're finally back to where we need to be with good power and the parts supply that we need. Hopefully we can take this momentum into next season." Schultz, who was diagnosed with cancer two months ago, earned an emotional victory in Pro Stock Motorcycle, defeating Geno Scali in an all-Suzuki battle. Schultz clocked a 7.292 at 178.02 on his Sunoco two-wheeler to take his 45th career victory and hold off hard-charging Scali, who posted a 7.306 at 179.80. "Coming here my goal was just to get back on the bike," said Schultz, a six-time NHRA Winston champion. "Before the race in Brainerd my doctor told me that it may be the last race I ever get to run. I couldn't stand thinking about it. Every time I went to the starting line today I just wanted to do everything I could to win the round and keep racing. This is the most important win of my career." The next NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series event is the rain-delayed O'Reilly Fall Nationals presented by Castrol Syntec, Nov. 3-4 at the Texas Motorplex near Dallas.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Shirley Muldowney , Matt Hines , Larry Dixon , Brad Jeter , Warren Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Dean Skuza , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Bob Glidden , Cory McClenathan , Geno Scali , Johnny Gray , Bob Vandergriff