Pomona III: 50th Anniversary winds down

NHRA's 50th Anniversary Winds Down In Thrilling Fashion POMONA, Calif. - The NHRA's historic 50th Anniversary season is speeding to a 330-mph finish at the same place it all started. Winston championships will be up for grabs in several ...

NHRA's 50th Anniversary Winds Down In Thrilling Fashion

POMONA, Calif. - The NHRA's historic 50th Anniversary season is speeding to a 330-mph finish at the same place it all started.

Winston championships will be up for grabs in several professional categories as the NHRA returns to Southern California for the third time in its golden anniversary for the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, Nov. 8-11, at Pomona Raceway.

Gary Scelzi, John Force, Kurt Johnson, Tony Mullen and Greg Stanfield are the defending winners of $2.1 million race, the final of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Scelzi capped off his third Winston championship last year with his record ninth Top Fuel victory of the season, defeating rival Tony Schumacher in the final. Scelzi and Schumacher have struggled in 2001 as the two former champs have watched a battle of the beer cars with Kenny Bernstein and his Budweiser King dragster and Larry Dixon in the Don Prudhomme-owned Miller Lite dragster clash for the prestigious series championship. Both title contenders will be challenged by the likes of rookie sensation Darrell Russell, who won his first professional start at Pomona back in February, the consistent 330-mph Yankee dragster driven by Mike Dunn, and the always consistent Doug Kalitta, driver of the Connie Kalitta-owned Mac Tools dragster.

In addition to the already impressive championship battle in Top Fuel, the 17th annual Budweiser Shootout will be contested at the historic Southern California quarter-mile for the eight qualified drivers. The lucrative $100,000 winner's purse will be up for grabs as Scelzi looks to defend his title and win his fourth Shootout in five attempts. Seven other drivers including Bernstein, Dixon and Kalitta lead the rest of the elite field into competition.

Force, from Yorba Linda, Calif., who has already clinched a record 11th NHRA Winston Funny Car championship, will try to add another victory to his growing total. The rest of the competition will battle for final spots in the standings and look to make a statement for next year. Force's long list of rivals, which include Whit Bazemore, Del Worsham, and Ron Capps, are hoping to solidify their positions among the top five in the final points order.

Lawrenceville, Ga.'s Johnson completed a late season surge with a victory over the already-crowned 2000 Winston Pro Stock champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. in the final. As both drivers continue to adjust this year to the new bodies of their Chevy Cavaliers, the incomparable Warren Johnson, Kurt's father, nears his sixth Pro Stock championship. The diversity in the field has been amazing, as only three drivers (Coughlin, W. Johnson and Greg Anderson) out of the 14 different season winners have been able to earn multiple victories. There will be no clear-cut favorite as George Marnell, Jim Yates, Bruce Allen and Mike Edwards plan on joining the short list of repeat winners.

After winning last season's finale, Mullen sat out 2001, but former teammate Antron Brown has been impressive, battling defending Winston champ Angelle Savoie for Pro Stock Motorcycle bragging rights. Savoie is seeking her second straight championship and would become the fourth rider to repeat as champ in the two-wheel category. She will be challenged by Brown, three-time champ Matt Hines, and 18-year-old rookie standout GT Tonglet.

After finishing fifth in the Pro Stock Truck standings following last year's victory in Pomona, Stanfield has been at or near the top of the points race all season. Two-time defending series champ Bob Panella is on the verge of his third straight Winston championship. Mike Coughlin and Randy Daniels will be among the favorites to win the race and try to deny Panella another championship trophy.

SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying is set to begin at 1:45 p.m. on Nov. 8, and will continue at 1:45 p.m. on Nov. 9, and at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 10. Budweiser Shootout elimination rounds scheduled for 12:45 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 10. Final professional eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11.

TICKETS: Tickets are available for the 37th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals. Call (800) 884-6472 for further ticket information. Tickets also are available at ticketmaster.com and nhra.com.

* TELEVISION: ESPN will televise two hours of early qualifying highlights at 4 p.m. (ET) on Nov. 10 and then later qualifying highlights at 11 p.m. (ET) on Nov. 10. ESPN2 will televise one hour of coverage of the Budweiser Shootout at 1:30 a.m. (ET) on Nov. 11. ESPN2 also will televise three hours of final round coverage at 7 p.m. (ET) on Nov. 11.

- www.nhra.com.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , Matt Hines , Bob Panella , Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Randy Daniels , Mike Coughlin , Greg Stanfield , Bruce Allen , George Marnell , GT Tonglet , Connie Kalitta