Pomona 2: 50th Anniversary Nationals finals report

POMONA, Calif. -- John Force, NHRA's most prolific winner, led the victory parade Saturday at the Pep Boys NHRA 50th Anniversary Nationals presented by American Racing Wheels as the drag racing organization celebrated its golden anniversary under...

POMONA, Calif. -- John Force, NHRA's most prolific winner, led the victory parade Saturday at the Pep Boys NHRA 50th Anniversary Nationals presented by American Racing Wheels as the drag racing organization celebrated its golden anniversary under the lights at legendary Pomona Raceway.

Doug Herbert, Jeg Coughlin and Angelle Savoie also were winners at the $2 million race, the 13th of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Force earned his 96th career Funny Car victory and moved closer to a record 11th Winston championship, defeating rival Whit Bazemore in a classic Ford-Pontiac final round match-up. Force's Castrol GTX Mustang flickered brilliantly under the illuminated stadium as it sped to a 4.953 at 317.64 leaving Bazemore's Matco Tools Firebird in its wake. Bazemore's machine lost power past mid-track and limped to the finish in 5.691 at 168.51.

The usually energetic Force was emotional and reflective following his accomplishment and dedicated the victory to NHRA's founder, Wally Parks.

"Wally Parks created all of this 50 years ago and this was a special race for the NHRA honoring its past," said Force, who beat Jerry Toliver, Del Worsham and Bruce Sarver in the opening rounds. "On behalf of all the racers, I want Wally to have this trophy. He made it possible for me to go to a place I never thought I would be. This is his stadium, his night, and I'm just really proud to be a part of it."

With the victory -- his fourth of the season -- Force increased his Winston points lead to 335 over closest challenger Del Worsham.

Herbert scored his sixth career victory and first of the season in a thrilling Top Fuel final against Gary Scelzi. Herbert drove his Snap-on Tools dragster to a 4.600 at 320.58 to pull away from Scelzi, who lost traction early and ran 5.574 at 305.42 in his Team Winston dragster.

"Pomona has always been my favorite track and this win really helps to reinforce that feeling," said Herbert, a Southern California native, who beat Gary Clapshaw, Andrew Cowin and Darrell Russell to advance to his first final round since 1999. "This is a great win for our team because we've been struggling a little this year. Our car has been running well all year and we've been qualifying good, but it was just a matter of putting a win together. Finally we had a little bit of luck and the car ran good and we put it all together."

Kenny Bernstein suffered a second round loss but remained in the Winston points lead, 62 ahead of Larry Dixon. Coughlin earned his third Pro Stock win of the season by outpowering Mike Edwards in a battle between Chevrolet Cavaliers. Coughlin covered the distance in 6.911 at 199.26 in his Jeg's Mail Order entry, while Edwards was a tick off the pace at 6.923 at 200.05 in his Young Life machine.

"It's really exciting to win the 50th anniversary race," said Coughlin, who defeated Darrell Alderman, Jim Yates and Kurt Johnson to advance to the final. "We had a great day and we're all very excited. The car did exactly what we wanted it to do. What a way to end the weekend. It's tough out there and the team did its job. I'll be smiling for days."

Warren Johnson was upset in the first round by V. Gaines, but maintained a 53-point lead over Jim Yates in the Winston standings.

Savoie claimed her 18th career Pro Stock Motorcycle victory and in the process tied three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Shirley Muldowney for most victories by a female in NHRA history. Savoie clocked a 7.246 at 180.14 on her Team Winston Suzuki, but didn't need the horsepower as Antron Brown fouled at the start on his Team 23 Suzuki.

With her category leading third victory of the season, Savoie extended her Winston points lead to 54 over Brown. "This is such an honor to be mentioned in the same breath as Shirley Muldowney," Savoie said. "I don't think I ever could have imagined this in my wildest dreams, but I think I would trade these 18 wins in for the three NHRA Winston championships (Muldowney) won."

Last season, Savoie collected her first seasonal championship, joining Muldowney as the only female professional champions in NHRA history. Savoie is one of just six women to win a NHRA national event in the sanctioning body's 50-year history. The others are Muldowney, Lori Johns (four wins), Shelley Anderson (four), Lucille Lee (one) and Cristen Powell (one).

Jack Harris defeated Rance McDaniel in the special nostalgia top fuel exhibition. Harris drove his front-engine dragster to a 6.152 at 234.45 to hold off McDaniel, who clocked a 6.305 at 223.14.

The next NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series event is the 22nd annual Mopar Parts Mile-High Nationals, July 19-22 at Bandimere Speedway, Denver.

-NHRA

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Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Shirley Muldowney , Antron Brown , Bruce Sarver , Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Darrell Alderman , Kenny Bernstein , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Andrew Cowin , Mike Edwards