First 2008 winners crowned in Pomona

Clear blue California skies set the scene for the NHRA PowerAde Series season opening CarQuest Auto Parts Winternationsls. Fans were treated not only to ideal weather with temps in the 70s, but also intense side-by-side action on the quarter-mile...

Clear blue California skies set the scene for the NHRA PowerAde Series season opening CarQuest Auto Parts Winternationsls. Fans were treated not only to ideal weather with temps in the 70s, but also intense side-by-side action on the quarter-mile as Tony Schumacher, Robert Hight and Greg Anderson took the first trophies of the season at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.

Five-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher picked up right where he left off last November with a win at Pomona. The victory moves him up to second on the all-time wins list with 42, just 10 victories behind record holder Joe Amato.

"It was good to see that win light. It was a great ending to a great day," he said. "Most of the days we wake up and race a difficult car first, we perform better. We get the momentum we need. Today we were so consistent. It was really a perfect moment."

Schumacher knocked off Doug Kalitta, Doug Herbert and Larry Dixon before meeting his Don Schumacher Racing teammate Cory McClenathan in the final. McClenathan took out Brandon Bernstein, rookie and top qualifier Antron Brown and Morgan Lucas in earlier rounds.

In a fast, close race down the strip Schumacher left first and led the entire distance, making the trip in 4.499 seconds to McClenathan's 4.536.

Schumacher said he is giving his trophy to Herbert who tragically lost two sons in a car accident two weeks ago. "I've been praying for him and his family every day," Schumacher shared. "It was tough racing him in the second round. I would've been so happy for him if he'd won. But I hope he enjoys it and it helps him in some way."

Fourteen-time champion John Force began his Funny Car comeback since spending the last few months in aggressive physical therapy after an accident at Texas Motorplex with a first round win over former teammate Tony Pedregon, but skipped the celebration to make sure Pedregon was okay after his car exploded near the finish line.

Force was distracted when he saw Pedregon's car catch fire and forgot to pull his chutes. In this sport of split seconds, the delayed reaction resulted in Force's car inching nose first into the sand at the end of the strip. Pedregon got out of the car on his own power but was taken to the local hospital for evaluation as a precaution.

Pedregon explained, "A lot of times when something happens to your car, like when you drop a cylinder, you feel it, and I would have reacted. But it blew up and I had instant flames, and the scary part was I didn't know where I was. I hit the wall very hard and I feel very lucky."

Pedregon returned to the track to support his teammate, his brother Cruz, in later rounds. The only sign of injury was a bandaged right hand.

Force was able to celebrate his successful return to racing after his second round victory. "That old car makes me 18 years old," Force said. "I'm an old fart, but that old car makes me young."

Force exuded pride after his daughter Ashley also won her second round match-up. "She looks like her mom. She races like me," Force declared. Announcer Bob Frey put it in perspective when he said "that's how you know there's a supreme being. It could've happened the other way and none of us want to envision that".

Force's son-in-law, Robert Hight, took him out in the semi-final. Hight defeated Ron Capps and Gary Densham in earlier rounds. Cruz Pedregon took out two John Force Racing cars, Mike Neff and Ashley Force, as well as Jack Beckman to reach the final round.

In another fast, close race Hight blasted his way to victory lane with a 4.861 second run, his eighth straight round win at Pomona. Pedregon finished with a 4.879 second run.

"I'd like to have all the races here. We seem to have a great track record," Hight said. "My win today wasn't based on performance. We didn't do real well in qualifying. The first two rounds we were fortunate to not have somebody in the other lane that went down the track. Like Jimmy [Prock, crew chief] said, we're still testing. These chassis were late getting to us so we're just a little behind the eight ball. But the last two rounds we ran well. And we got the job done."

Hight dedicated his win to an engineer from Ford, Niranjan Singh, who Hight said has worked non-stop on the new Ford race cars. Singh came over from Formula One and has developed a love for drag racing and its racers. Hight predicts he may even become a crew chief in the future.

Powerhouse Pro Stock driver Greg Anderson swept the weekend, earning a track record low ET, number one qualifier and victory. Anderson grabbed his seventh win at Pomona.

"It's going to be probably the best year ever in PowerAde Pro Stock," Anderson predicted. "That's what makes you feel good at the end of the day if you can beat a class like this. It's a knock-down, drag-out brawl every time we go out. But I'm the only one in this class that can say I'm [definitely] going to win a race this year. We're going to try to win every single race this year. We got off of that last year and I paid dearly for it in the end."

Anderson defeated Johnny Gray, Greg Stanfield and Allen Johnson on his way to the final round where he met defending champion Jeg Coughlin, who eliminated Ron Krisher, Justin Humphreys and Kurt Johnson in earlier rounds.

The two drivers had almost identical reaction times and stellar runs, but Coughlin's quick 6.638 wasn't enough to beat Anderson's 6.616, a track record low ET.

The NHRA teams have two weeks before they meet for the second stop on the 2008 schedule, the Checker Schucks Kragen NHRA Nationals at Firebird International Speedway in Phoenix, February 22-24, 2008.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Doug Herbert , Antron Brown , Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Kurt Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Ron Krisher , Gary Densham , Cruz Pedregon , Cory McClenathan , Greg Stanfield , Ashley Force , Brandon Bernstein , Allen Johnson , Johnny Gray , Morgan Lucas , Don Schumacher , Robert Hight , Justin Humphreys , Mike Neff