Pomona: 2002 Funny Car to be ultra competitive

Funny Car Category Shaping Up To Be Ultra Competitive POMONA, Calif. - The Funny Car category won't be a laughing matter this season. In fact, if the pre-season hype lives true, the 300-mph category could showcase one of the most hotly contested...

Funny Car Category Shaping Up To Be Ultra Competitive

POMONA, Calif. - The Funny Car category won't be a laughing matter this season. In fact, if the pre-season hype lives true, the 300-mph category could showcase one of the most hotly contested championship runs in quarter-mile history.

John Force, already the winningest driver in NHRA history with 98 national event wins, will be looking to defend his 2001 Funny Car title as the NHRA opens the 2002 season with the 42nd annual K&N Filters Winternationals, Feb. 7-10, at Pomona Raceway. Darrell Russell, Bruce Sarver and Kurt Johnson are the defending winners in their respective professional categories in the $1.9 million race. It is the first of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Force, coming off his 11th Funny Car championship, expects the 2002 season will be a challenge.

"It could be the toughest season since Don Prudhomme, the Army Car, the Blue Max and the Budweiser King raced," the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang driver said. "I think this will be the year. This year I am going to have to be totally focused. Last year at the beginning of the season it was tough because (the event wins) went from Sarver, to Ron Capps to the (Whit) Bazemore squad."

Gary Scelzi is a three-time Top Fuel champion and is making the switch to the Funny Car category. He hopes to be competitive early, but agrees that the class is going to be tough.

"I think this might be Force's toughest year if he's going to win the championship again," Scelzi said. "In Funny Car, anyone qualified No. 1 through No. 16 can win an event. We know Whit is going to be tough and Scotty (Cannon) is going to be a player this year. Del (Worsham) can only get better. There are a lot of great cars out there and I'm excited about it."

As usual, Force will wear many hats during the battle for a 10th consecutive Funny Car championship. Beyond being one of the most popular personalities in the history of the sport, Force also will continue duties as team owner for Tony Pedregon, Gary Densham and his 19-year-old daughter, Ashley, who will run a full season of Super Comp events. Force knows what he will have to do to keep the championship streak alive as well as grabbing wins No. 99 and 100.

"It's all a matter of everyone keeping it together for all 23 races," Force said. "That's the key, keeping the team together and keeping the money financially right. I'm sure I'll get (No. 100) this year. (Breaking records) never gets old."

Any Funny Car driver with aspirations of an NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series championship knows there will be several teams standing in the way of the 2002 title - as well as Force.

"If you beat John Force, you know you have done something," Scelzi said. "And even if you do take the championship from him, you are not going to change his persona. You're not going to change the fact that he is the baddest man ever to get in a Funny Car. Period. But we're not here to beat John Force, we're here to beat everyone."

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kurt Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Gary Densham , Don Prudhomme