Pomona: Winternationals preview

Defending POWERade World Champs Begin Quest For 2005 Series Crown at Carquest Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals POMONA, Calif. -- The 2004 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing season will be remembered as one of the most memorable and epic ...

Defending POWERade World Champs Begin Quest For 2005 Series Crown at Carquest Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals

POMONA, Calif. -- The 2004 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing season will be remembered as one of the most memorable and epic seasons in NHRA history. Fans of the world's fastest form of motorsports witnessed record-setting performances by the reigning POWERade world champions and took part in the sport's most anticipated event ever, the 50th running of the prestigious Mac Tools U.S. Nationals.

Now it's time to start all over.

The 2005 NHRA POWERade season officially begins with the 45th annual CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals, Feb. 10-13, at historic Pomona Raceway. Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Jerry Toliver (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) are the defending winners of the $2 million event, the first of 23 races in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Schumacher and Anderson began their quest to claim their 2004 POWERade crowns with victories at the season-opening event. Schumacher went on to establish a Top Fuel record for victories in a season (10) and Anderson set multiple records over the course of the year, including the all-time single-season win total for any pro category as he made 15 trips to the winner's circle en route to his second consecutive POWERade title. As fond as those memories may be, the time has come to move on and focus on the 2005 NHRA POWERade world championship. As the defending series champs, Anderson and Schumacher both realize that every driver in their categories are aiming to knock them from the top spot and deny them the chance of defending their crown.

"I'm not sure if I'm going to like (wearing a bull's-eye on my back) or not," said Anderson who won the 2004 SPEED Driver of the Year award based on his unprecedented accomplishments last season. "I was enjoying not having a sign up on my building (getting all the attention) and kind of flying under the radar, but those days might be over. It seems it is going to be more difficult to find private time, I guess, and the time to work on (the Pontiacs). (All the attention) is new to me, and it's a neat deal. All this media attention, and really any kind of attention, is new to me and I'm still getting used to it. I'm starting to enjoy it. I've always worked on cars my whole life and this end of it is new and I'm still trying to get a hold of it."

Anderson's accomplishments one year ago marked the greatest single-season performance in NHRA history, one that may never be repeated. His victory total, final round appearances (19), No. 1 qualifying awards (16), and margin-of-victory in the final point standings (742 points) were unprecedented marks, especially in the ultra-competitive Pro Stock category.

"I'm very confident; I feel great, and I feel like we're at the top of our game right now," Anderson said. "I'm certainly a little scared, like I am this time every year, because you never know what your competition has done in the last month or two of the offseason. Everybody really got their eyes opened up on what it takes to succeed in this class and I'm not going to sneak up on anybody anymore. Everyone has elevated their game."

During a pre-season test session in Florida this winter, Anderson powered his Summit Racing Pontiac Grand Am to the finish line in 6.60 seconds at more than 208 mph. Although unofficial, It is the quickest and fastest Pro Stock pass ever.

"From some of the pre-season testing that I've seen already, some of the other guys have made some gains, so we are going to have to be a better team than we were last year if we want to repeat any of the things that we did in '04," he said. "I'm very confident that we can, but at the same time you get scared and it's probably a good motivator for me. You never know what you're going to get until you roll into the gates at the season-opener in Pomona and see what everybody has accomplished over the winter. You try to keep going forward and getting better and see if it's better than the rest of the pack."

Schumacher, who had never won at Pomona Raceway prior to 2004, began and finished his quest toward Top Fuel supremacy with book-end victories at the historic Southern California drag strip. With a victory this weekend, Schumacher can join two-time NHRA POWERade world champion Larry Dixon as the only two Top Fuel drivers to win the CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals in back-to-back seasons.

"(Last season) was magical, without question," Schumacher said. "To go out and win the world championship and win 10 events to set the record was amazing, but this is a new season. We'll be ready to take on all challengers by the time we get to Pomona, you can count on that. We want a second straight POWERade world title."

Schumacher will be challenged for the 2005 crown by a host of other drivers, including Brandon Bernstein, teammates Dave Grubnic and Doug and Scott Kalitta, the rejuvenated Cory McClenathan, two-time series champ Dixon and the up-and-coming Morgan Lucas.

"Listen, we know we're going to be in for a dogfight once the season starts," Schumacher said. "But, our performance (at the pre-season test session) in Phoenix should be a message that we're going to give it all we have to defend our world title. If the other teams want that big check at the end of the season, they are going to have to earn it and take it from us."

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Tony Schumacher , Cory McClenathan , Scott Kalitta , Brandon Bernstein , Morgan Lucas , Jerry Toliver