COUNTDOWN TO 1: 2008 POWERade SEASON COMES TO AN END IN POMONA: As the sun set through the hazy, smoke-filled skies over Pomona, California, all four champions in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series posed for photos near the winner’s circle at the Auto Club NHRA Finals. Though one had been crowned champion two weeks previous, three of the four championship trophies were not awarded until the final event of the season, with one coming Saturday following qualifying and the other two during eliminations the next day.
But when all was said and done, it was Top Fuel pilot Tony Schumacher, Funny Car driver Cruz Pedregon, Pro Stock defending champion Jeg Coughlin and Pro Stock Motorcycle sophomore Eddie Krawiec who stood in the world championship winner’s circle.
Schumacher dominated the Top Fuel class all season. His 15 wins in 18 final round appearances, coupled with his 76 round wins and nine No. 1 qualifiers, helped the U.S. Army dragster pilot clinch his fifth straight POWERade series world championship and sixth overall in Las Vegas, nearly two weeks before the final race of the season in Pomona. While Schumacher mowed through the field in the Top Fuel category, the Funny Car class saw one of the tightest battles for the world championship, with three drivers in contention for the trophy heading into eliminations Sunday.
All three drivers, Pedregon, Wilkerson and Hight, sat on the same side of the ladder and in complete control of their own destiny. When Wilkerson fell to John Force in the first round of eliminations and Pedregon drove past Jerry Toliver to move on to the second round, the battle became one between Pedregon and Hight, with Hight matched up first round against Cruz’s brother and teammate, Tony Pedregon. Tony proved too much for Hight, driving past the Auto Club/L.A. Dodgers Ford Mustang and Cruz Pedregon clinched his second world championship, 16 years since his last.
In Pro Stock, Jeg Couglin entered the event with the championship all but clinched. Coughlin needed to simply qualify for the event to pick up his second consecutive and fourth overall world championship in the class. Coughlin made the field in the lucky No. 13 spot to clinch his championship Saturday evening.
Pro Stock Motorcycle saw its champion crowned in the semifinals of eliminations after defending world champion Matt Smith lost in the second round. Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson rider Eddie Krawiec clinched his first world championship with a semifinal win over teammate Andrew Hines. Krawiec also became only the second driver in NHRA history to win a world championship without winning a single national event the entire year (Rob Bruins, Top Fuel, 1979).
FUNNY CAR DRIVER NEFF WINS AUTO CLUB ROAD TO THE FUTURE AWARD: Former crew chief-turned Funny Car driver Mike Neff won the $20,000 Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award, which recognizes NHRA’s rookie of the year. A panel of the nation’s most prominent motorsports journalists selected Neff as the top performing rookie in 2008. Neff had three runner-up finishes and two No. 1 qualifiers this season behind the wheel of his Old Spice Ford Mustang. Neff was also the only rookie driver who qualified for the Countdown to 1 playoffs.
It was the third time in the last four years that a driver from John Force Racing has won the award as Neff joins 2007 winner Ashley Force and ’05 winner Robert Hight. Other nominees of the prestigious award included Funny Car driver Bob Tasca, Top Fuel pilot Steve Torrence, Pro Stock driver Rickie Jones and Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Junior Pippin. Neff received the award at the 2008 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series awards ceremony Monday at the Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City.
SCHUMACHER, FORCE, JOHNSON, HINES CREWS WIN FULL THROTTLE PIT CREW CHALLENGE: The NHRA Full Throttle Pit Crew Challenge season awards, which recognize the most consistently quick teams during qualifying throughout the year, were presented Monday during the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series awards ceremony Monday at the Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City.
In Top Fuel, Tony Schumacher’s U.S. Army team, led by crew chief Alan Johnson, picked up the award, along with $25,000. Ashley Force’s Castrol GTX Ford Mustang team ($25,000) led by Dean Antonelli picked up the award in Funny Car, Kurt Johnson’s ACDelco Chevy Cobalt team ($15,000) grabbed the award in Pro Stock and Andrew Hines’ Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team ($5,000) led by Byron and Matt Hines picked up the award in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
O’REILLY ADDS WINTERNATIONALS TO NHRA TITLE SPONSORSHIPS: Beginning in 2009, O’Reilly Auto Parts, which recently acquired Checker, Schuck’s, Kragen and Murray’s, will be the title sponsor of the Kragen O’Reilly NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, February 5–8. The Kragen O’Reilly NHRA Winternationals, NHRA’s traditional season-opening race, will be held at the Southern California home of drag racing, Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, and will mark the official beginning of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series era.
In addition, O’Reilly continues its existing title sponsorships in Dallas (O’Reilly Super Start Batteries NHRA Fall Nationals), Topeka, Kansas (O’Reilly NHRA Summer Nationals), Madison, Illinois (O’Reilly NHRA Midwest Nationals), Houston (O’Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals) and Memphis (O’Reilly NHRA Mid-South Nationals).
HE SAID, SHE SAID
GETTING A WALLY, ANY WAY YOU CAN: Eddie Krawiec on winning the world championship in Pro Stock Motorcycle before winning his first national event: "I haven’t had a chance to get my first (event) Wally yet, but I’ve got a big gold Wally (for winning the championship). I do have a $75,000 check here, though, so if someone wants to sell a Wally, I could buy one.”
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
5: The number of Top Fuel championships the famed U.S. Army dragster tuned by Alan Johnson and driven by Tony Schumacher have won. Johnson announced plans to start up his own two-car, Top Fuel/Funny Car team for the 2009 season.
DID YOU KNOW…
…that 17 of the last 18 Funny Car world championship has been held by either a Force or a Pedregon (John Force '90–’91, ’93–2002, 2004, 2006; Cruz Pedregon '92, 2008; Tony Pedregon 2003, 2007), with Gary Scelzi breaking the trend in 2005.