Rookies finding success in Pomona final qualifying

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Rookies finding success in Pomona final qualifying

What would be the best way to communicate to your peers that you're ready to compete in the NHRA PowerAde Series Top Fuel division? No, not an inter-shop memo. How about qualifying number one in the season opener? That's just what Top Fuel...

What would be the best way to communicate to your peers that you're ready to compete in the NHRA PowerAde Series Top Fuel division? No, not an inter-shop memo. How about qualifying number one in the season opener? That's just what Top Fuel rookie Antron Brown did today at the 48th Annual NHRA Winternationals at the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. Also topping their class are Greg Anderson in Pro Stock and Tim Wilkerson in Funny Car.

Antron Brown.
Photo by Ted Rossino.

Brown is no stranger to the highly competitive NHRA pro series having 10 years under his belt in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class. And he's making the transition from 2 wheels to Top Fuel look easy with his pole earning 4.495 second run down the quarter-mile, reaching a top speed of 331 mph.

"I saw Dixon run a 4.49 in front of us and then Lee [Beard, crew chief] came back over and jumped in the box. I thought, oh man, it's good out there. They're putting the screws to me," Brown shared. "But I was already happy because I knew we'd qualified and I'd be racing on Sunday. The rest was a bonus."

Brown was a fan favorite in Pro Stock Motorcycle and it appears those fans have followed him to the new class.

"The whole weekend's been crazy and it's getting more and more insane. When we got back to the pits this big crowd was there chanting my name. I was like, check it out. We got our own cheering section. It's such a wild deal and to be number one is just an awesome deal for the entire team."

Brown will be in good company if he can win his inaugural Top Fuel event tomorrow, a feat accomplished by Darrell Russell in 2001 and Gary Scelzi in 1997.

Larry Dixon's 4.497 earned him the second spot on the Top Fuel ladder, followed by Tony Schumacher, Morgan Lucas and Hillary Will.

Wilkerson used his final qualifying attempt to earn the number one spot on the Funny Car ladder, blasting down the quarter-mile to the low E.T. in 4.790 seconds.

Tim Wilkerson.
Photo by Ted Rossino.

"We're obviously pretty happy with that run," Wilkerson said. "We left some on the table this morning and we knew we had room for improvement this afternoon. We were ready with three tuning scenarios depending on whether we were in the show. When we knew we couldn't get bumped, we went for the throat and it worked."

Jerry Toliver also had a 4.790 second E.T., but the pole went to Wilkerson based on his top speed of 325.2 mph versus Toliver's 320.5 mph. Melanie Troxel, new to the Funny Car category, earned the third spot followed by Scott Kalitta

The California crowd went wild when 14-time champion John Force used his last qualifying attempt to break into the top five on the Funny Car ladder. Force made his return to competition after enduring aggressive physical therapy following a horrific crash last September at Texas Motorplex. The champion earned his spot in the field on his final run and couldn't be happier to be racing again.

Anderson is eager to get back the Pro Stock championship crown, starting the season off strong with a double track record at Pomona and low qualifier with a 6.629 second E.T.

"We thought as the weekend went along and the track got better, we'd be able to improve and we did," Anderson said. "We're at Pomona and we're number one so that's a pretty good way to start the year. I can see already it's gonna take an exceptional effort to earn that championship trophy back. There are so many great cars in this class once again."

Defending Pro Stock champion Jeg Coughlin, Kurt Johnson, Warren Johnson and Allen Johnson round out the top five.

Final eliminations for the CarQuest Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals kick-off at the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona at 11am local time. Eliminations air on ESPN2 at 7:30pm ET.

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