Pomona: Round one preview

NHRA Ready To Raise Curtain On 2007 Powerade Series Season POMONA, Calif. - The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series has enjoyed enormous success over the past couple of years with the dramatic points races of 2005 and 2006 and the emergence of ...

NHRA Ready To Raise Curtain On 2007 Powerade Series Season

POMONA, Calif. - The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series has enjoyed enormous success over the past couple of years with the dramatic points races of 2005 and 2006 and the emergence of charismatic stars like Melanie Troxel and J.R. Todd, so it could hardly be blamed if it closed ranks and played its hand conservatively.

But far from staying pat, the NHRA POWERade Series has just navigated an exciting and certainly newsworthy offseason.

From the announcement that Ashley Force was turning pro - a story that was deemed compelling enough to be featured prominently on the most viewed front page on the internet (Yahoo) - to the much-talked about and much-anticipated debut of the Countdown to the Championship playoff system, the NHRA POWERade Series dominated headlines during a typically dark period in auto racing. And these are merely two of the many storylines that merit a closer look this season.

The curtain will officially rise Feb. 8-11 as the $50 million NHRA POWERade Series embarks on its 2007 campaign with the season-opening CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. The event, one of the most anticipated season-openers in POWERade Series history, will be televised by longtime NHRA partner ESPN2 with qualifying scheduled for 10 p.m. ET on Saturday and final eliminations scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday.

"This has been such a crazy couple of weeks with the announcement I was turning pro and all the media and being No. 1 on the Yahoo search," said Ashley Force, who has had some distinct highs (a career-best 4.72-second pass in testing on Jan. 23) and lows (a fiery engine explosion Jan. 29 that she emerged safely from) in testing. "I'm just so glad that NHRA has this relationship with ESPN so that new and die-hard NHRA fans can follow my progress this season along with all of the other great stories in the POWERade Series."

As much anticipation as there is for Ashley's debut in general, the buzz is really focused on that first side-by-side race with her father, 14-time POWERade Series world champion and NHRA icon John Force, who will for the first time have the challenge of wearing the hat of competitor against his daughter.

Up to now, John has shifted between the role of team owner, mentor and father in bringing along his 24-year old daughter and he was 100 percent the latter when he witnessed her Castrol GTX/Auto Club Ford Mustang erupt in flames during testing at Firebird International Raceway in Phoenix Jan. 29.

"She had a nasty fire. She said, 'Dad, it exploded. I couldn't see anything.' She said, 'I triggered my bottles,' but it blew her windshield open. She got a little bit of smoke. She was gasping to breathe and I felt so bad. It was scary for me," said John, who then illustrated the genetic link between father and daughter. "But she was like, 'How long do you think it will take to fix it?' She was like an hour and a half later back in the staging lanes running again."

While it'd be easy to think Ashley has had the NHRA equivalent of a silver spoon, she has paid her dues with more than a half decade of experience in Super Comp and Top Alcohol dragsters leading up to her pro debut this season and none other than four-time world champion Tony Schumacher, who famously snatched the POWERade Top Fuel world championship away from Doug Kalitta on the final run of the 2006 season, said as much.

"She, in my opinion, probably paid more dues than most of the people out there that have had a chance to drive a fuel car," said Schumacher, who's seeking an NHRA record fourth straight POWERade Top Fuel world championship this season. "She's been in Super Comp and Alcohol for years and driven Funny Cars for a few years testing and testing. That's pretty cool. Who has really gone through that much? So by the time it's time for her (to make her pro debut ) in Pomona, to step off the clutch, whoever is on the other side better respect the fact that she may give them a whoopin'."

Joining Ashley in the crowded and incredibly competitive Funny Car class is six-time POWERade world champion Kenny Bernstein, who at the age of 62 is coming out of retirement. When you consider the four Funny Cars of John Force Racing (John, Ashley, Eric Medlen and Robert Hight), the three in the Don Schumacher stable (Ron Capps, Jack Beckman and Gary Scelzi), the two Pedregons (Cruz and Tony), the two CSK cars (Del Worsham and Jeff Arend) and Don "Snake" Prudhomme's Skoal entry driven by Tommy Johnson Jr., it's fair to say this will be as cutthroat as it gets when summer rolls around and there's 11-12 or more cars fighting for the top eight spots in the Countdown.

The Countdown, in its simplest form, breaks the season down into three distinct tiers: a 17-race "regular season" that reduces the field of contending drivers to 8, a 4-race "first-round playoff" that reduces the field of contending drivers to 4, and finally a 2-race "championship" that identifies the 2007 POWERade Series world champions.

So as races 15, 16, and 17 approach, the game of musical chairs around the eighth spot in the standings will become awfully intense.

Once the eight contenders are set after the 17th event, the top eight drivers will have their points reset with the first place driver being rewarded in the form of a 70-point - or nearly four-round - advantage over the eighth-place driver. The top driver will be given 2,070 points and the other seven drivers will receive 10 fewer points with eighth-place receiving 2,000.

The same game of musical chairs will begin again as these top eight drivers in each class compete in four full-field races - events 18-21 on the POWERade Series schedule - with only the top four drivers after this four-race "playoff" advancing to the championship round.

These top four drivers will again have their points reset - 3,030 to first, 3,020 to second, 3,010 to third and 3,000 to fourth - and they'll compete against full fields in Las Vegas and Pomona on back to back weekends in late October/early November to determine the 2007 POWERade Series world champions.

The favorite in Top Fuel would have to be Tony Schumacher, but Brandon Bernstein, 2006 Auto Club Road to the Future winner J.R. Todd, Melanie Troxel and newcomer to the class Whit Bazemore will certainly have something to say about that.

In Pro Stock, it'd be hard to bet against either of the Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GTOs driven by three-time POWERade Series world champion Greg Anderson and 2006 POWERade Series world champion Jason Line. A number of Pro Stock drivers have shown flashes the past couple of years, including Kurt Johnson and Dave Connolly, but none has shown the consistency needed to overtake Anderson or Line.

SCHEDULE: Professional qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2 p.m. on Feb. 8 and Feb. 9, and Noon and 3 p.m. on Feb. 10. Pre-race ceremonies will begin at 10 a.m. on Feb. 11, followed by the first round of professional eliminations at 11 a.m.

TICKETS: For tickets, call the NHRA, at (800) 884-NHRA (6472). Tickets also are available at Ticketmaster, ticketmaster.com, and nhra.com

ON TV: On Saturday, Feb. 10, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying at 10 p.m. (ET). On Sunday, Feb. 11, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will broadcast NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute pre-race show, at 11 a.m. (ET) and televise three hours of eliminations at 8 p.m. (ET).

-credit: nhra

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , Kurt Johnson , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Jack Beckman , Ashley Force , Melanie Troxel , Brandon Bernstein , Jeff Arend , Eric Medlen , Don Schumacher , Robert Hight , J.R. Todd , Dave Connolly , Tommy Johnson Jr.