Scelzi, Hines score titles in Pomona

John Force Racing has reigned supreme over the drag racing kingdom for nearly 15 years. Gary Scelzi dethroned the king Sunday, winning the 2005 NHRA POWERade Funny Car Championship at Pomona Raceway. Andrew Hines earned his second consecutive Pro...

John Force Racing has reigned supreme over the drag racing kingdom for nearly 15 years. Gary Scelzi dethroned the king Sunday, winning the 2005 NHRA POWERade Funny Car Championship at Pomona Raceway. Andrew Hines earned his second consecutive Pro Stock Motorcycle Championship while Ryan Schnitz, Tony Pedregon, Tony Schumacher and Jeg Coughlin drove to victory lane during the Auto Club of SoCal NHRA Finals.

Twenty years ago Scelzi came to Pomona Raceway in a top alcohol dragster and won his first national event. This weekend he won his fourth NHRA National Championship, his first in a Funny Car after winning three in a Top Fuel dragster. Scelzi is only the second driver in history to win a championship in two pro classes, Kenny Bernstein was the first.

It's been an exciting battle for the funny car championship between Scelzi, Force and Ron Capps that came down to the last race of the season. All three drivers won their first round Pomona match-ups. In the second round Capps was the first of the three contenders to go up to the line, meeting 1992 Champion Cruz Pedregon. Capps smoked the tires and Cruz got the win light.

Scelzi then matched up against Tommy Johnson and lost the battle by a slim .02 second margin of victory opening the door for Force to make up the points necessary to win the championship. Force met 2003 Champion Tony Pedregon at the line. Pedregon eliminated his former boss on a hole shot and Scelzi clinched the championship.

Reflecting on the moments between his loss and Force's run, Scelzi shared, "I was watching out of the corner of my eye when I had my hand on the parachute lever and I looked for the wall, because there's a [win] light on the wall, and it didn't come on. And right away (DSR track analyst) Lanny Miglizzi said we didn't win."

Scelzi continued "And then I sat there and watched Force get beat and I wasn't sure that he really got beat. Everybody was kind of quiet. I'm still numb right now. This is different than the other three. I've never had so much pressure where everything meant so much than this one."

"It's our goal to become a champion, not to just win races. Winning races is good, but to win a Funny Car championship racing the guys that we've had to race this year, last year and the years to come is just incredible," Scelzi shared.

Hines also won the national championship early in the day when his teammate GT Tonglet, the only other driver with a chance to win, lost to Mike Berry in the first round. Comparing his 2005 championship win with 2004 Hines shared, "This year was definitely better than last. Being able to go the finals in the last race is cool." Looking forward to a couple months away from the track Hines said, "It'll be a pretty good off-season with 2 championships under our belt."

After the two big trophies were awarded the business of the AAA Finals took back the spotlight. In a crazy ending to an already wild Funny Car class, Eric Medlen went deep into the sand pit after his semi-finals win causing seemingly irreparable damage to the car. A fantastic team effort by John Force Racing got the car and Medlen to the start line versus Tony Pedregon who had taken out his brother Frank, Force and brother Cruz to reach the finals.

Medlen was able to eliminate Tony Bartone, teammate Robert Hight and Tommy Johnson before his trip to the beach. Medlen completed a burnout and got the car staged, but his only chance was if Pedregon would err. Instead, Tony made a strong run and drove to victory lane for the second time since becoming a car owner in 2004.

With his daughter Cecily by his side an elated Pedregon shared, "I had a great day. I crossed the finish line after beating John and felt like I'd won the championship, or my first race. Good way for us to wrap up the season. This is what we've been working towards."

Reflecting on Medlen's efforts to get his car ready for the final round Pedregon said "I knew there'd be 30 guys working over there. It didn't surprise me they were over (in the other lane). I wouldn't have been surprised if they made a full run."

Tony Schumacher's team continues to change the Top Fuel record books, winning his way into a record 7th consecutive final round after beating John Smith, Larry Dixon and Brandon Bernstein. That's where he met teammate Melanie Troxel who eliminated Doug Foley and Morgan Lucas before she took a short trip into the sand pit after her semi-final win over David Baca.

Troxel's team repaired the car in time to pull to the line against Schumacher but she fouled and handed Schumacher two more records - 20 straight elimination round wins and 5 straight event wins. Schumacher proudly gave his team a lot of credit for his amazing season, "These guys are bad to the bone. Just unbelievable. I don't think there's ever been a team like it."

Hoping to carry the momentum into next year, Schumacher is still ready to take a break from the intensity of racing. "I'm off for three months, I want to have some fun, watch my daughter grow up and go to the beach." "The Sarge" won't be taking a break from competition sports though, taking up a contact sport for the winter. "I have a hockey team I'm on and I'm going to go knock some people down," he said with a smile.

Pro Stock Motorcycle Champion Hines won his way to the finals after taking out Chris Rivas, Mike Berry and Chip Ellis. Ryan Schnitz met him at the line after beating Tom Bradford, Antron Brown and Craig Treble. Hines was unable to finish his championship season with a Wally after he red-lighted the start and gave Schnitz his third win for 2005.

Schnitz didn't know Hines' fouled until he drove off the track and was directed into the winner's circle. "I had no idea. I thought they're going to interview the loser? All of the sudden they said I won." Excited to be the only rider to have three wins this season, Schnitz shared, "This gives us momentum for the winter. Hopefully to find a marketing partner. It says a lot for our team."

Both finalists in Pro Stock car won their semi-final round match-ups via red light fouls by their opponents. Jeg Coughlin kept his car in the race by eliminating Allen Johnson, Greg Anderson and Jason Line. Fifteenth seeded Tom Martino earned his way to the finals after topping Erica Enders, Richie Stevens and Kurt Johnson. Martino enjoyed his surprising run to end the season, but jumped the light and fouled in the final round.

Coughlin's win ended a 2 year drought, but comes on the heels of a hiatus from Pro Stock competition. "Getting back into the winner's circle feels great. We were focused today. I was driving well and the whole team did a great job. It was exciting."

Announcing he's going to take a break from the POWERade series, Coughlin gave credit to his car owner and team. "This win speaks volumes to what this team and family has done to get us here. They worked their hearts out to get me a good car out here to race. It's great to get the first win for Don Schumacher in Pro Stock. It's a great day for Jegs."

After Monday night's NHRA awards banquet, teams look ahead to the 2006 season which begins here at Pomona Raceway February 9th with the 46th annual CARQUEST Auto Parts Winternationals.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Antron Brown , Jeg Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Kurt Johnson , Tony Pedregon , Tony Bartone , Ron Capps , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Greg Anderson , Mike Berry , David Baca , Tommy Johnson , Cruz Pedregon , Craig Treble , Tom Martino , Melanie Troxel , Brandon Bernstein , Allen Johnson , Chris Rivas , Morgan Lucas , Jason Line , Ryan Schnitz , Andrew Hines , Doug Foley , Eric Medlen , GT Tonglet , Don Schumacher , Chip Ellis , Robert Hight , Tom Bradford