Scelzi leads fierce funny car battle in Pomona

Pomona Raceway in sunny southern California is the setting for the first and last races of the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. The 23rd and final race of the 2005 season will be anything but anti-climactic with the closest points battle in Funny...

Pomona Raceway in sunny southern California is the setting for the first and last races of the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. The 23rd and final race of the 2005 season will be anything but anti-climactic with the closest points battle in Funny Car history being fought out on the quarter-mile this weekend.

Although the trophies for Funny Car and Pro Stock Motorcycle won’t be handed out until Sunday, Gary Scelzi and Andrew Hines have the championships in their sights while Scelzi, Tony Schumacher, Matt Smith and Jason Line grabbed number one qualifier spots for Sunday’s Auto Club of SoCal NHRA Finals.

The three drivers vying for the 2005 Funny Car title are Scelzi, Ron Capps and John Force. Defending POWERade champion Force has 13 titles to his name, but he's fighting an uphill battle this weekend. Trailing Scelzi by 28 points and Capps by 26, Force needs to advance two rounds further than the two Don Schumacher Racing teammates in Sunday's final eliminations in order to make up the difference.

Force and his team went to extreme measures this weekend to eliminate weight from the car, attempting to score a national record that would award him 20 bonus points. However, Force was unable to achieve the record and settled for the sixth spot on the elimination ladder.

The third DSR Funny Car driver, Whit Bazemore, won't be an innocent bystander on Sunday. His eleventh spot on the ladder matches him with Force in the first round of eliminations, giving Bazemore the opportunity to take Force out of the championship equation early.

Scelzi took the top spot on the ladder with a low ET 4.696 seconds reaching 330.23 MPH. Admitting the pressure of the championship race has affected his attitude, Scelzi shared some advice he received this weekend from drag racing legend Frank Hawley. "(Hawley) told me: Relax. You forgot why you're doing this. It's fun. You're in the car, you're in control." Scelzi continued, "I've been edgy, nervous, not the goofy Scelzi. I'd just forgotten what this is all about."

Obviously more relaxed and somewhat goofy, Scelzi described his attitude going into Sunday's race, "My state of mind is good. But we're not going to take the first round tomorrow lightly. It's do or die now." Scelzi said he's not worried about what his teammates Capps and Bazemore are going to do tomorrow. "If we win this race we'll be the champions. We can't worry about (them). I'm worried about what were going to do. I'm not going to get caught up in the bologna."

Cruz Pedregon reached a top speed of 328.86 MPH and sits second followed by brother Tony, Eric Medlen and Robert Hight. Capps qualified tenth.

With the Top Fuel championship trophy already sitting on his mantle, Tony Schumacher's team continued domination scoring a season record 11th number one qualifier award with a low ET 4.466 seconds and top speed 328.78 MPH. Proud of his crew, Schumacher acknowledged, "All year long people have been (asking) is this one of the best teams ever. These guys are the best. I'm proud to drive for them. This is just a fantastic team. Tomorrow will be fun."

Melanie Troxel powered her dragster down the quarter-mile in the second quickest time. California native David Baca took the field by surprise running a 4.485, quick enough for third followed by Brandon Bernstein and Rod Fuller. David Grubnic sped to 330.96 MPH, the top speed of qualifying, but sits 12th on the ladder.

Scott Kalitta, who sits 11th on Sunday's Top Fuel ladder, announced he'll be driving a Funny Car for Kalitta Motorsports next year. The Michigan-based team will still field three Top Fuel cars in 2006 driven by Doug Kalitta, Grubnic and nitro-rookie Hillary Wills.

Matt Smith drove his bike down the quarter-mile in 7.000 seconds to achieve his first career pole and a new track record. An elated Smith shared "I can't say enough, I'm just privileged to be able to ride this bike. I'm tickled to death."

Andrew Hines has a 47 point advantage over teammate GT Tonglet in the Pro Stock Motorcycle championship race and sped his V-Rod up to 191.57 MPH, but his ET was only quick enough for second on the ladder. Chip Ellis, Ryan Schnitz and Antron Brown round out the top five motorcycles.

Jason Line grabbed the Pro Stock Car pole with a track record ET 6.677 seconds reaching 206.83 MPH. Admitting his team still has some work to do before eliminations, Line said "We had one good run that happened to be quicker than everyone else. We definitely don't have a handle on it yet. We just want to win this race tomorrow."

Kurt Johnson sped to a top qualifying speed of 207.62 MPH, but his ET puts him third on the ladder. Continuing a strong streak, Erica Enders drove her Chevy Cobalt to the second qualifying spot, a career best, improving upon her number three spot two weeks ago in Las Vegas. Greg Anderson, who locked in the 2005 Championship in Las Vegas, sits fourth followed by Jeg Coughlin.

Eliminations for the 41st annual Auto Club of SoCal NHRA Finals begin Sunday at 11:00 am.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , Jeg Coughlin , Kurt Johnson , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , David Baca , David Grubnic , Cruz Pedregon , Scott Kalitta , Melanie Troxel , Brandon Bernstein , Jason Line , Ryan Schnitz , Andrew Hines , Eric Medlen , GT Tonglet , Don Schumacher , Robert Hight , Rod Fuller , Hillary Will , Frank Hawley , Matt Smith