Pomona2: Racers wait for rain to pass and competition to begin

POMONA, Calif. -- NHRA competitors worked throughout the offseason with aspirations of earning an NHRA POWERade championship in 2004. They arrived at Pomona (Calif.) Raceway knowing they had four qualifying runs to make the 16-car field for ...

POMONA, Calif. -- NHRA competitors worked throughout the offseason with aspirations of earning an NHRA POWERade championship in 2004. They arrived at Pomona (Calif.) Raceway knowing they had four qualifying runs to make the 16-car field for eliminations. Once qualified, they would need four winning runs on Sunday to earn the first event crown of the season.

The first of four qualifying rounds was held on Thursday, Feb. 22. Then the rain came and all racing was halted. The 44th annual K&N Filters Winternationals will resume this weekend.

The drivers are still ready to challenge for the win. They just had to wait a few extra days for the weather to clear up, providing a dry racing surface. The K&N Filters Winternationals, the first of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, will be held Feb. 27-29 at Pomona Raceway. Racers are competing for more than $2 million in prize money.

Thursday's qualifying session gave fans a little surprise along with some well-known names at the top of the qualifying order.

In Top Fuel, Tony Schumacher drove his U.S. Army dragster to the head of the pack with a 4.514-second run at 326.32 mph. Schumacher started the 2003 season slower than he would have liked. He gained momentum and wins after the mid-point of the season with the hiring of tuner Alan Johnson. The 1999 Top Fuel champion collected four victories and finished third in the standings.

Schumacher wants to start the 2004 season where he left off in '03 - with victories and some of the quickest times in NHRA history.

"People keep telling me that we're the front-runners to win the title," Schumacher said. "I tell them, 'Yes, we're good, but so are the Kalittas (Doug and Scott). Darrell Russell is going to be excellent, (Brandon) Bernstein, (Larry) Dixon, he is the two-time champ, the list just goes on. We're in for a heck of a fight all year."

In one of the biggest surprises of the new season was the leader of the Funny Car category. Rookie Eric Medlen drove his Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang to the top of the Funny Car class with a 4.840 pass at 319.07. It was his first run as a professional racer. Medlen, 30, replaces 2003 NHRA Funny Car champion Tony Pedregon in the Force Racing camp. Pedregon left Force Racing to join his brother Cruz Pedregon in a two-car team owned by the brothers.

One pass, however, and the rookie was at the top.

"I don't know what to think," Medlen said. "Force took a chance on a young hick like me and I'm glad I was able to show him I could drive today. He told me, "Good job junior, you saved my life,' and I said, 'That's OK because you made mine.' It's the car, believe me. And the crew chief, my dad (John Medlen) and the guys. It takes all the pressure off me because I know I have a bad ride."

Greg Anderson, the 2003 NHRA POWERade Pro Stock champion, paced the two-door category with a 6.73 run at 205.19 in his Vegas General Construction Pontiac Grand Am. Anderson is coming off the best Pro Stock season in NHRA history. He set 19 track records and both ends of the national record en route to 12 victories.

Still, Anderson knows that doesn't mean much when it comes to handing out wins in '04.

"You never know where you stand until you actually get here to Pomona and run your car down the track," Anderson said. "It was a longer offseason than we've had recently, which I was in favor of, so everyone had more time to work on stuff. You do think about the other teams and you wonder what they're up to. Now we all get to see."

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Tony Schumacher , Greg Anderson , Cruz Pedregon , Eric Medlen , John Medlen