POMONA, Calif. - Entering the 2002 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing season, tight battles were expected between Larry Dixon and Kenny Bernstein for Top Fuel supremacy. It was a given that the Pro stock title would be up for grabs and that Angelle Savoie,...
POMONA, Calif. - Entering the 2002 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing season, tight battles were expected between Larry Dixon and Kenny Bernstein for Top Fuel supremacy. It was a given that the Pro stock title would be up for grabs and that Angelle Savoie, Matt Hines, Craig Treble and Antron Brown would duel for the crown in the two-wheel category. The only category where the favorite remained the same was in Funny Car. Perennial champion John Force would definitely be challenged by the likes of Del Worsham and Whit Bazemore, but in the end, the seasoned racing veteran should emerge victorious due to his experience.
Ironically, the Funny Car championship will be the only series title unclaimed when the NHRA returns to the Golden State for the 38th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, Nov. 7-10, at historic Pomona Raceway. The $2 million race is the final of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.
Force is an 11-time NHRA Funny Car champion with the last nine coming consecutively. The only year Force hasn't been atop the final standings in his category was in 1992, when he lost the title to Cruz Pedregon. Not only is Force in jeopardy of being knocked off his throne, it might be another Pedregon that does it. Force's own teammate, Tony Pedregon, enters the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals 31 points behind his boss in the Funny Car standings and is a serious threat to be the driver that ends Force's dominance.
"I'm trying to win 10 straight and (Tony) says he's just trying to win one straight," said the 53-year-old Force, whose 105 career victories is the most by an NHRA competitor. "It's not over yet. We still have some fighting to do."
The maximum amount of POWERade points available at an NHRA national event is 138, which includes points for being the No. 1 qualifier, winning the event, and establishing a national record for elapsed time. While both Frord Mustangs have the potential to score 138, T. Pedregon has had the most dominant car the last five events, winning three races and posting four No. 1 qualifying efforts. An early exit by Force and another strong performance by his teammate of six years, and a new Funny Car king could be crowned.
A DNQ (did not qualify) also is a possibility for Force, but highly unlikely as he has not recorded a DNQ since the 1987 NHRA Finals. If he qualifies for this year's annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, it will be his 300th consecutive start in eliminations. The NHRA record for consecutive starts is 303 by Pro Stock driver Warren Johnson, which was snapped earlier this season at Sonoma, Calif.
"Pomona is where this thing is going to be decided and become final," said Force, who kept Pedregon out of the points lead by defeating him in the final round of the event prior to the Pomona race. "That's good for the fans, hard on my heart, but that's what we're going to do. I understand the media hype, but the story is we're racing, and after Pomona, we'll know."