Keep up with this weekend's CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals by reading our behind-the-scenes event notebook. We bring you the stories behind the numbers and win-lights throughout the course of the weekend. Tune in daily for the latest news from the pits.








toddDSA_4373.jpgPaying the bills - JR Todd's a little lighter in the wallet today. But the second-year Top Fuel driver doesn't seem to mind, not after scoring the fourth win of his young career with a victory in the 47th CARQUEST Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. "I had a deal with (crew chief Jimmy Walsh) that every time we ran a 4.50, I would pay him a dollar," Todd said. "I told him, if it runs a .40, I pay him a 100 bucks. It was expensive today."

Todd accomplished the feat in style, running consecutive 4.4-second passes in the final three rounds of eliminations. After a sluggish 4.699 pass in a first-round win over teammate Melanie Troxel, he followed it up with a 4.479 over Doug Kalitta, a 4.473 over David Grubnic, and a 4.482 over Brandon Bernstein in the final. Bernstein smoked the tires early in the run and slowed to a mark of 11.397.

"It's pretty surprising to me," said Todd, whose fourth victory came in just his 20th start. "Jimmy Walsh and crew work really hard and all those long nights paid off today. I'm just lucky enough to drive that thing.

"I never expected for things to happen as suddenly as they have. I just try to take it race by race. Last year was a Cinderella year for us. It wasn't that surprising to us because the more laps I got in the car, the more comfortable I got and the more Jimmy and the guys were in getting a hold of the tune up. Now, we feel we're for real and we can contend for the championship. But we'll take it race by race and see what happens."

Repeat performance - Tony Schumacher's performance at the 47th CARQUEST Winternationals looked very familiar.

The four-time Top Fuel champion, despite qualifying No. 1 for the second consecutive season, saw his day end early, losing to No. 16 Joe Hartley when the U.S. Army dragster smoked the tires before the 660-foot mark. Schumacher lost to then teammate Troxel in the second round last season.

"It’s not the end of the world, but it still is disappointing," said Schumacher, who leaves here in ninth-place. "This race sort of sets the tone. You always want to start the season on a good note and, unfortunately, it did not happen.

"You always want to get off on the right foot, but things happen. This is a sport that can turn on you in a hurry. Look at what took place last year for us. We struggled for much of the first half of the year and then we suddenly took off and eventually won the title."

bazemoreDSA_3397.jpgSuccessful transition - Whit Bazemore's first event since moving into the Top Ranks proved to be a successful one.

The former Funny Car qualified his Matco Tools dragster with a 4.507 for the No. 7 qualifying position. He then beat veteran Cory McClenathan in a tire-smoking battle in the first round of eliminations before running a solid 4.564 in a second-round loss to David Powers Motorsports teammate Rod Fuller, who stopped the lights at 4.557.

"As a team, I think we did really well," Bazemore said. "We lost a very close race to our teammate. It's a round we should have won, and we didn't. Anytime you run within a couple (thousandth of a second)...I look at it like it's my responsibility to win that round. I had the best (reaction time) I've had in this car, but it wasn't good enough.

"Overall, I think it was a good weekend. We learned a lot. I got to pedal it this morning (against McClenathan), driving it while smoking the tires to the finish line. That was a good experience and I learned a lot there. So it was good. These guys (in Top Fuel) are just stout. It's tough. It's more stress now than there ever has been."

But Bazemore held his own, especially in the opening round. He held a slight advantage off the starting line against McClenathan and then won a pedal-fest to the finish line, driving to a 6.499 to beat McClenathan's 7.492.

"Actually, in the first round I found out, for me at least, the car is easier to drive when it's smoking the tires than when it's hooked up. Because when it smoked the tires, it moved around and I could steer it and it reacted exactly the way I wanted it to. It was predictable.

"But in a regular run, it's so quick, it's not predictable. For me, I'm not to the's OK, because we're going right down the grove, but we move around and it's so quick that steering-wise, it's almost darty. So when it spun the tires some 700 feet from the finish line, I just legged it. It was kind of sideways, and I steered it...It was kind of cool, because I thought, 'Wow, this is kind of cool.' It was really predictable. But I understand now how a dragster guy going to Funny Car might lock the thing up because it's so much easier to drive than a Funny Car when it's spinning the tires."

willDSA_2852.JPGIf there's a Will, there's a way? Not this time - The 47th CARQUEST Winternationals weren't quite what second-year Top Fueler Hillary Will had hoped for.

The driver of the KB Racing dragster qualified a disappointing 13th in the 16-car field and then suffered a first-round loss to Kalitta Motorsports teammate Doug Kalitta when she was forced to bypass the opening round due to mechanical problems.

Kalitta received a bye run when Will's dragster suffered a broken clutch linkage following her burnout. It didn't help that Kalitta, who would lose in the second round, made a sluggish pass of 5.975.

"It was extremely (disappointing)," said Will, who was competing here after being involved in a horrific crash during testing at Las Vegas last weekend. "We really had a rough month. This (clutch linkage breakage) has never happened to us before. We’ve made run after run and never had this problem. Yes, it’s really disappointing. We wanted to win badly."




scelziDSB_7178.jpgScelzi joins exclusive club - The champions list of the Winternationals features a who's who of drag racing. But of the countless numbers of winners at the season-opening event, only two competitors before today had ever scored victories in both Top Fuel and Funny Car.

You can make that three. Gary Scelzi joined the exclusive club, surviving a trek into the sand pit in the semifinals to score victory at the 47th CARQUEST Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

Scelzi equals the marks set by Don Prudhomme (TF- '65, FC - '75-78) and Kenny Bernstein (FC- '87, TF - '92), but it wasn't easy. Not only did he have to comeback from running into the sand in a semi-final win over Mike Ashley, he had to also defeat No. 2 qualifier Robert Hight, who had just made the quickest pass in Funny Car history with a stout 4.646 in the third round.

he had nothing for Jimmy Prock and Robert Hight," Scelzi said. "We were going to try and run a .67, .68. We tried to hop it up and the car ran down the race track."

So did Hight's Ford Mustang. But after blowing past Scelzi, the John Force Racing driver crossed the centerline just before the finish and was disqualified, despite beating the driver of the Mopar/Oakley Dodge to the line with a 4.725.

"I didn't see Robert until about 700 feet, said Scelzi, who made a 4.716 at 332.26 mph in the finals.”Then he drove about three cars ahead of me and I thought, "What?' Then all of sudden his car shut off. I didn't know if I got him in the lights and I looked over and saw his win light on. I thought, 'Oh, man.'

"And then the guys got on the radio and told me he beat on a holeshot. I thought I nailed the tree...then they got back on the radio and said he hit a cone and 'you won.' I thought, 'Nah. These guys are playing a dirty trick.'

"It was unfortunate. Robert Hight and Jimmy Prock had a great car this weekend, but so did we. We ran a 4.71 at 332 mph in the final and never ran slower than .75. We got our lucky round. A lot of times you get it early, but we got it in the final, and it's great way to start a season."

a-forceDSA_3907.jpgThe Force wasn't with her - Ashley Force's Funny Car debut at the 47th CARQUEST Winternationals was short and not too sweet.

The daughter of 14-time Funny Car champion John Force lost in the first round to teammate and brother-in-law Hight. Force, who qualified 15th, smoked the tires just after hitting the throttle and pedaled twice before finally giving up. Hight, who would advance to the finals, suffered problems down track and coasted to the win at 5.367.

"It shook and smoked the tires. I pedaled it and it got pretty sideways," Force said. "I lifted and saw Robert out my (windshield). He appeared to be on a good run and the moment I lifted he had some problem. I said, 'Our you kidding me?' Then I got back on it, but it was too late.

"I felt I made a bad decision. I apologized to the team and Guido (Antonelli, crew chief) said, 'Kid, we smoked the tires pretty early on. You probably wouldn’t have caught (Hight).' We looked at the numbers and there wasn't a very good chance of catching up to him, but there was a very good chance of destroying the motor.

"Maybe, I made the right decision. I don't know. I asked dad and he said, 'Blow up everything you need to get down track.'''

ashleyDSB_7096.jpgThe 'other' Ashley - Mike Ashley fought back from early troubles in qualifying to earn a semifinal finish this weekend. The New York resident, who qualified 12th with a 4.778, scored wins over Tim Wilkerson and Cruz Pedregon before losing to eventual champ Scelzi in the semifinals.

"The way things flowed with the team today was outstanding," said Ashley, who made runs of 4.755 against Wilkerson, 5.080 against Pedregon, and 4.788 against Scelzi. "Even with the rain delay, everyone was right on their game, and it showed in that .75 against Wilkerson. And then to come back and get the round over Cruz, it was exactly like we had envisioned it.

"I think results speak the truth, and the truth is we intend on being a championship contender all year long. This performance proves we have what it takes to win as a team."





Another Pomona win for Anderson - Don't be surprised if Greg Anderson suggests that all the POWERade Series national events be held at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

andrsonDSA_3103.JPG The class juggernaut appears to be unbeatable on the historic quarter mile. Today's 47th CARQUEST Winternationals was another case in point for the Minnesota native, who scored is third consecutive event at the Pomona track, beating Greg Stanfield in the final with a solid 6.651 at 207.05 mph. He advanced to the finals after making passes of 6.641, 6.640 and 6.651 in wins over Richie Stevens, Mike Edwards and David Connolly.

"I think this definitely proves something to ourselves," said Anderson, who is looking to recapture the class title after giving up the crown to teammate Jason Line last season. "I don't think we can just coast and go on to the next race and expect this happen again. All this is going to do is just make (the opposition) angry and make them work hard for the next week.

"It proves to us that what we've done over the winter - designing the (DRCE3) and all the work we've done designing these cars - that we made the right calls. It's a statement to ourselves that we made the right call on crew guys, the right decision on building the (DRCE3) engine and building the cars."

Anderson also proved that his success is more than just what's under the hood. He showed he could be snake-like quick off the starting line. Anderson showed after earning reaction-time advantages in two of his four wins, including a 0.21 edge over Connolly in the semifinals.

"I think what really lit the fire for me (today) was what happened this morning (when Harley-Davidsons were awarded to the three class champions)," Anderson said. "It made me mad when I saw those Harleys. I don't want to lose anymore. That's all the incentive I needed. I gritted my teeth, acted like I really wanted it and I guess I got more hungry than I've been in the last year or two.

"I haven't drove like that, for maybe two, three years. But it shows how you can get screwed up in the game sometimes. You have to be on your game. You have to be aggressive; you have to have that killer instinct. Apparently, I had it today."


Used car sales rise - Who said it's not a good idea to buy a used car? Certainly not Anderson, whose winning Pontiac GTO was one he purchased from a Competition Eliminator competitor in the off-season.

"We felt we needed a spare car," Anderson said. "We couldn't get a car (from Rick Jones) for six months because he is backed up so much. So we decided to buy a used one, and we found one that was being run in Comp eliminator. We took it and made some changes to it. We didn't think we would race it, just use it as a back up. But we brought it here. It was a bit of a risky move, but it paid off."

morganDSA_3482.JPGBrake-down - Pro Stock driver Larry Morgan started the 2006 season well, but slumped going in the second half and ended up 11th in the final standings, after two DNQs.

The veteran from Newark, Ohio, has been trying to figure out what the problem is and, after failing to make the field for last year’s finale at Pomona and the season-starting CARQUEST Auto Parts Winternationals here, Morgan thinks he might have an answer.

"We have been checking everything but didn’t take a close look at the brakes until after qualifying this afternoon," Morgan said Saturday night as he checked out of his track-adjacent hotel. Apparently his right rear brake was 50 thousandths off and Morgan thinks that’s the big difference. "I don’t know what happened, but we’re gonna take it all apart and try another set of rotors," he said.

I was in the neighborhood, so... - Jessica Martino, the daughter of competitor Tom Martino who is also an international figure skater, joined her dad at Auto Club Raceway this weekend while in town checking out potential west coast universities she might attend, including UCLA, USC and Loyola Marymount.

"There's a possibility that I might be training out here and if that happens, I'll be studying here as well," said Jessica Martino, who has won a gold medal in Belgium and silver in Switzerland in separate competitions.


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schumacherDSA_3733.jpgStill the one - Tony Schumacher closed the 2006 season on top. And that's where he finds himself for Sunday's 47th CARQUEST Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. The four-time POWERade Series champion claimed his 36th top-qualifier award today after completing the Pomona quarter-mile course in 4.472 seconds at 331.36 mph. Rod Fuller, who made a 4.481 pass during today's early session, is No. 2 with Brandon Bernstein, the day-one leader, in the third spot at 4.494.

Schumacher, who is No. 1 at this event for the third time, leads the quickest Top Fuel field, which is separated by the U.S. Army's 4.472 pass to No. 16 Joe Hartley at 4.575. Also, the top nine cars qualified at 4.518 or quicker.

"I'm really impressed with the whole field," Schumacher said. "It's the quickest field ever. You have guys like (No. 9 Mike Strasburg) running a .51...That's outstanding. That's cool. It's what makes it a great race. There are no easy first-round (matchups). If you make a mistake, you're done."

But Schumacher likes his chances, especially after three of his four qualifying passes were 4.485 or quicker. The exception was the 4.50 he made during the opening qualifying session on Thursday.

"I think making four runs down the race track is probably more important than qualifying No. 1," Schumacher said. "It's great to be No. 1. We're not going to take anyone lightly, we're just going to drive and try to win the race tomorrow. I think the car is still struggling a little bit. It's  moving around a bit, but it's still No. 1, and hopefully its good enough tomorrow."

vandergriffDSB_7056.jpgE-ticket ride - Bob Vandergriff got more than he bargained during today's afternoon qualifying session at Auto Club Raceway.
The Southern California native showed he's just as good on three wheels as he on four after the left-front wheel on his UPS dragster popped off during his 4.556
run in today's afternoon qualifying session.

"I've had too much of this. We've worked too hard to have stuff like this happen," said Vandergriff, who qualified 11th with the 4.536 pass he made in the final qualifying session. "It's very unfortunate. The car was on a good run. It was starting to pull left...then bang. Then I saw the front wheel bouncing away. It was trying to get away from me. I held on the best I could."

Mac Attack -
Cory McClenathan turned up the speed during today's qualifying rounds, making the fastest run of his career after qualifying for the 16-car field with a stout 4.530 at 334.07 mph.

"That was awesome," said McClenathan, who faces Whit Bazemore in the first round on Sunday morning. "I've never run that
fast. This Torco Fuels/Fram Air Hog dragster is just getting better and better. The guys are just doing a great job. My hat's off to them. They do all the work. I
just drive it."

lucasDSB_7039.jpgAnother DNQ - Morgan Lucas is once again on the outside looking in after failing to make the 16-car field for the second time in the past three events dating back to last season. "I'm not too excited about it. I'm really ticked off," said Lucas, who was 18th at 4.630. "This whole team is really working hard. That's the frustrating part. We're all trying."

Did he really say that? -
Doug Herbert, who qualified 15th for Sunday's eliminations, has finally figured out what it takes to win a NHRA national event. "If you don't race on Sunday, you can't win it. That much I know for sure," Herbert said.

Star-packed pit - Hollywood celebrities Robert Patrick, who appeared in such films as 'Terminator II' and 'Walk the Line,' and Ethan Embry, 'Vegas Vacation's' Rusty Griswold, were guests of four-time POWERade Series champion Tony Schumacher this weekend.

"I have never experienced anything quite like this. It's probably the closest I've every been to a rocket launch," said Patrick, who was allowed to stand on the starting line on Friday during Schumacher's qualifying attempt. "It's just fascinating."

Patrick's association with Schumacher goes back to when both of them were allowed to jump with the U.S. Army's Golden Knights skydiving team.

"(Schumacher) invited to me to come out and experience this. I'm pretty impressed," Patrick said. "This is very exciting. You can't help but be amped up. All day (Friday) I was bouncing off the walls like I had a whole case of Red Bull."


a-force_j-forceDSA_3595.JPGForce-ful day - Not even John Force, with all his thoughts of grandeur, could have written this script. But there he was, facing the ultimate paradox. On one hand, you had Force, who was on the outside looking in and in danger of not qualifying for a NHRA national event for the first time 392 races. But to keep the streak alive, he had to bump his daughter Ashley, who is making her Funny Car debut at this weekend's Winternationals in Pomona. Force looked his catch-22 square in the eye and did what he does best. He banged the throttle of his Ford Mustang.

"I wanted her in so bad," Force said. "It so hard when you're up there. I wanted (Kenny) Bernstein in, I wanted (Del) Worsham in, and then your kid's on the bubble. And your up, so it's like, 'OK, Lord, here's the deal: I want in the show, but don't bump the kid out.' Well, you know he's talking back, 'We got a little problem here. You're the one who can bump her out. Which one goes home?' So I just told myself, 'Just step on the gas, ' because (Tony) Bartone's in the other lane and if I'd done anything stupid, he bumped us both out."

It worked. John Force pushed his Castrol Ford Mustang to a stout 4.709 pass, temporarily qualifying him in the No. 2 position. But that bumped Ashley Force from the 16-car field. She responded like her dad, strolling her Castrol coupe to a 4.790, taking the No. 14 position before dropping to No. 15 by the end of the session.

"This day has been so intense," Ashley Force said. "I have grown up around this sport for 24 years. It's easy to say that you aren't going to get nervous. The numbers thing got in my head, too. I was so conflicted watching (dad) in front of me. I wanted him to get in the show, but I didn't want to get bumped out. 

“Thankfully, everything worked out."


Ashley will now have to run brother-in-law Robert Hight, who was bumped to the No. 2 position when Gary Scelzi roared to a 4.692. Both Forces are ready for that challenge.

"Robert knows the story," Force said. "You have to earn it here, and she knows she has to earn it against Robert. He loves her, too, but he also wants to win the championship."

Said Ashley: "I'm glad all of us are in the show. The only thing I know is that for the first time ever my little niece (Hight's daughter Autumn Daniell) is not going to
be rooting for me tomorrow."

scelziDSA_3642.JPGForgotten man - Lost in the shuffle of the Family Force chronicles was the stout performance turned in by 2005 Funny Car champion Gary Scelzi, who claimed his first top-qualifier award in more than a year. "This is such a great feeling," said Scelzi, who scorched the Pomona asphalt with a stout 4.692 pass, bumping Hight's 4.693. "The third fastest track and the third fattest Funny Car driver. I'm so excited, I can't stand it. "I was thinking (crew chief Mike Neff) was going to go for it. I was talking to Zippy (Neff) on the radio and asked him if he was going to slow down (the supercharger). He said, 'Nah! I knew when he said that, it might be a big (number), and it was big.

"Scelzi, who finished a disappointing seventh in points last season, appears to have re-joined the elite after running 4.754 or quicker in the final three qualifying sessions. It makes him extremely confident for Sunday's eliminations, which has him paired up with Jim Head in the first round.

"Every time we done that in the past, and I probably shouldn't say it, we've had a really good car on Sunday," Scelzi said. "Mike is not trying to get caught up in the numbers. He's trying to make it run consistent. He keeps say,

'Baby steps, baby steps...Then when we were watching what was happening in that final session, assistant crew chief Aaron Brooks asked (Neff), 'Should we slow the blower down?' When he said, no, I thought this thing is either going to be fast, or it's going to be our first tire smoker."

toliverDSB_6624.JPG He's baaaaaaaaak! - Jerry Toliver, one of the sport's more popular competitors over the last decade, is returning to the Funny Car wars. Toliver, who said he hoped to dance by the Gatornationals, will drive a Toyota Solara with corporate backing from Rockstar Energy Drink. The deal with Rockstar is for three years.

"I've never worked as hard as I have these past two seasons trying to secure the right deal," said Toliver, who last competed during the 2004 season. "The team and I stuck together through thick and thin. We're ready to come back to the sport we love and mix it up with the best of the best."

And Toliver has hired a pretty good crew chief, at least initially, to tune his Toyota entry - Dale Armstrong, who helped him make a run at a Funny Car title in 2000. Armstrong, who was voted one of the NHRA's top 50 drivers in 2001, will also serve as team manager.

"Dale has agreed to help us get moving," said  Toliver, who plans to test the new flopper following national events at Phoenix and Las Vegas. "He's going to handle the crew chief duties (at the start), and then maybe bring someone underneath him, or he may decide to stay on. We've always worked real well together. He's as great as anyone out here. To be able to race with him, just gives me more confidence."

Interested bystanders - The 25,000 or so drag-racing enthusiasts who showed up to Auto Club Raceway weren't the only one who were keeping tabs on the Funny Car qualifying shuffle.

"It's neat for me to watch, too," Pro Stock top qualifier Greg Anderson said. "It's such a neat deal. I wish I could be associated with something like that, being involved with a family like that, bringing in the next generation. It's great for the sport. It's great for everybody, even us on the inside.  You bet, I was watching.  We have a job to do, too. I have to try and win a Pro Stock race tomorrow, but I'll be watching."

Funny Car's Scelzi was also watched from afar.

My stomach was tied in knots," Scelzi said. "I felt sorry for John. I've been in that position. The round starts with you in the show and by the time the first two pairs have run, you're out. I've seen that movie too many times."

Big hitters miss the show - While Saturday's qualifying produced the quickest field in history, the sessions did not fair well for big-time players Kenny Bernstein and Del Worsham. Bernstein, who has come out of retirement to run in the class for the first time since 1989, made a solid pass in the final session today, running a 4.847. Worsham, who struggled through a sub-par 2006 season, ran a 4.797, but was bumped out by Jim Head's 4.795. Worsham was first bumped out by Gary Densham's 4.772, but that run was disqualified when Densham crossed the centerline just before the finish line.



andersonDSA_3519.jpgAnderson back on top - Greg Anderson, who shook the tires on Friday, rebounded by taking the top spot in the class with a 6.634 at 209.04 mph. "We just made a mistake (Friday)," said Anderson, who claimed his 52nd top-qualifier award. "You have to run the right lane here a little different then the left. We made a mistake. The wheel got the wheelie bar a little too hard and it spun the tires. We just made a mistake. But we recovered from it and ran real well this morning and came back and ran well in the right lane this evening. My team is doing just an awesome job, and I'm really looking forward to tomorrow."

Elves in the engine shop - POWERade Pro Stock driver Allen Johnson’s father Roy spent the off-season looking for more endurance in his son’s and Richie Stevens Jr.’s MOPAR engines. "The gains are so small you don’t see them until you get to the track," he said. "It’s very, very challenging."

Roy Johnson keeps his blinders on in the Pro Stock paddock. "We have to take care of stuff at home so we’re not going to worry about anything our competitors at GM are doing [with the new DCRE3 engine that debuts this weekend]. "Our intent is to make our own engines well and happy and to do the best we can every time we come to the line."

Roy doesn’t care if Allen and Richie qualify first or 16th, or so he says. "We just want to do the best we can." Stevens’ Stratus couldn’t make it down the track Friday after his crew effected minor changes, using some of Allen Johnson’s set-ups. "He’s got some kind of a ‘car problem’ with it and those changes didn’t work, so they’re putting it back to how it was on Thursday and we’re hoping for the best."

On his final try, Stevens secured No. 16 on the ladder while Johnson earned second, avoiding a first round meeting with his teammate.

DSB_6375.jpg One tough lady – It’s been a tough weekend for Pro Stock driver Erica Enders, who missed the show. She had some tough problems this morning when she came to the line for the third round of qualifying and her car backfired on start-up. "That happens sometimes," shrugged the 23-year-old Texan. "I asked David Nickens (her crew chief) what to do and he said we should still attempt the run and take our chances." When they restarted the car, "It was so hard to control because it was idling at 5000 rpm [instead of the standard 1500-1800 rpm]. Then it revved to 8500 on the burnout," Enders said. She never made the run.

Enders went for her final opportunity in the last session of the day and experienced the same difficulties with a high idle at 6000 rpm. She made her best pass of the weekend but it wasn’t good enough (6.693/206.13), leaving Enders 17th in a 23-car field.

"I have all the faith in the world we can make this thing run right, but we’re going to have to test before Phoenix in two weeks," she said. Since they’ve got another car back in Houston, Enders’ crew will take her rig to Firebird International Raceway and fly back home to prepare their other car for the second race of the year.


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DSB_6182.jpgWhiteley walks away - Alcohol dragster driver Jim Whiteley crashed into both retaining walls during Top Alcohol Dragster qualifying tonight at the 47th CARQUEST Winternationals today at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif. The Idaho resident was not hurt during the incident that saw his dragster get loose, cross the centerline before ricocheted off both walls and errupting into flames.
Ho-hum, another No. 1 for the U.S. Army - Tony Schumacher was back in his usual spot today at the 47th CARQUEST Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif. But the driver of the U.S. Army dragster, following a stout 4.483-second run at 328.30 mph, wasn't exactly jumping for joy, either."It's great to be No. 1," said Schumacher, who is in position to claim his 36 career top-qualifier award. "I wouldn't trade it for any other spot out there, obviously. But we were just expecting a little better run. It just didn't feel like it left real good. But we'll get figured it out. It wasn't a bad run. I guess I'm just spoiled after last year."
It would be hard for Schumacher - or anyone else - to live up to the veteran's performance at this track last season. Schumacher scored arguably the top run in the sport's history when his 4.428 blast not only lowered the national elapsed-time record, but earned him the POWERade Series championship, his third in a row and fourth overall.
Schumacher was even reminded of that performance while testing near Phoenix two weeks ago.
"I have to say," Schumacher said, "a guy came up to me and said, 'I want you to know that at the end of the race in Pomona as I was walking out, I thought if someone had asked me that I couldn't leave because I still owed some money, my hand was in my pocket.' That's what NHRA is all about. It was just a great moment for racing. That's all we can do is give the fans their money's worth."
Schumacher was just a little disappointed he couldn't do it today. But he did say there is something about Auto Club Raceway that has something to do with it. He just doesn't know what it is.
"There's a reason that there's only been one (E.T.) record set here in Top Fuel," Schumacher said. "You would think someone could set records here. The track is outstanding, yet no one can set a record. It's just throwing curveballs."
DSA_3139.jpgNew sponsor, new attitude - The blue Miller dragster is gone. The performance of the Don "the Snake" Prudhomme-owned rail is not.
Larry Dixon, now sporting the orange and blue of SkyTel, has made two solid runs down the Auto Club Raceway quarter-mile. He followed up a stout 4.504 on Thursday with a solid 4.524 at 325.45 mph today. He currently sits in the No. 5 position after two rounds of qualifying. "I'm over (big blue)," Dixon said. "This is our new deal. I don't wear a hat, but if I did, my hat's off to Snake for putting this deal together. We have a whole new set of t-shirts and a new attitude. We're looking for a wild season."
DSA_2339.jpgMelanie, is that you? - Two-time winner Melanie Troxel is sporting a new look this season, and not just the Vietnam Veterans/POW-MIA paint scheme of her Skull Gear/Torco Racing Fuels dragster. Gone is her shoulder-length air in favor of the short-and-sassy look. "For many years I've thought about cutting my hair short," Troxel said. "I was always just too chicken to do it. But I decided I was going to do it over the winter and I went out and did it. It was time for a change to do something different."
It's not the only change for Troxel, who has moved over from Don Schumacher Racing to partner up with Lucas Oil driver Morgan Lucas. But she's hoping to continue the success from last season that saw her finish a solid fourth in points.
"We're just hope to continue what we've done," Troxel said. "We have a new look on the car. We have a lot of new stuff going on, but at the same time, we have the same crew. I think that continuity is going to really help us maintain the same performance we've had the past two years."
Ready for a new challenge - After dominating the IHRA slate the past few years, Clay Millican is ready, willing and able to see what he can do fulltime on the NHRA side of the drag racing world. "We know it's going to be hard," said Millican, a six-time IHRA champion whose success in NHRA include advancing to three final rounds since 1998. "There's nothing easy about running either sanctioning body. The difference over here is that you have more races."
Millican's slate, though, will actually be shorter. "To be honest, the schedule is going to be easier on us. We've done 10-to-11 weeks in a row (in the past) because of running both schedules," Millican said. "This should be easier. You just have to be prepared. "I'm really looking forward to this season. There's a lot of tracks (on the schedule) I've never been to before, so it's going to be fun."
DSA_3312.jpgStill reaching new Hight - Robert Hight, despite missing the setup today and slowing to a 9.856, still sits atop the Funny Car qualifying charts with the 4.693 he ran on Thursday. Gary Scelzi, who ran a 4.726 today, is No. 2 with Ron Capps third at 4.741. "We tried to go for it," Hight said. "We're still dealing with this new combination and we're not always sure what it's going to do. It showed. It shook and smoked the tires.
"We really had nothing to lose. So we went for it and stood on it. But we're still No. 1."
End of 'The Streak'? - John Force has been the NHRA's most consistent competitors over the past two decades. Not only has the Southern California native set the standard with 14 championships since 1990, but he's qualified for every event since the World Finals at this track in 1989, a span of 392 national events.
That streak is in danger of being snapped this weekend after Force limped down the Auto Club Raceway quarter-mile to a 8.236. He currently sits No. 20 with the 5.085 pass he made on Thursday. And with a 30-percent chance of rain expected for Saturday, Force appears to be in a precarious position. Is he worried?
Not quite.
"I'm upside down and (the car) is just wrong," Force said. "It's dropping cylinders on every run. Somedays it just doesn't go right. If the good lord says it's going to rain tomorrow, then me and Prudhomme will just be team owners and root our guys on. I told my guys the other day in our team meeting, 'Be humble in victory and something in defeat.' This is just not the way I planned it. If ever I was going to (not qualify), with my kid starting, this would be the day.
"But I want to make it clear that if it rains tomorrow, I've challenged Kenny Bernstein to a foot race on Sunday."
DSA_3305.jpgCranking it up - Ron Capps had what has to be regarded as a career year last season. The veteran scored a class- and career-high five national event victories, set a personal record with eight final-round appearances and finished third in points. But once again, he fell short of the promised land - a POWERade Series championship.
Capps and his Brut Racing braintrust believe they have solved what appeared on the surface to be their only apparent weakness last season - qualifying. "The last two years we've given up a lot of points in qualifying," Capps said. "You don't think about it all year. But you look at a guy like (Robert Hight's crew chief) Jimmy Prock, where it seems like they are always qualifying in the top three. When you starting adding up those points at the end of the year, you can increase your advantage by several rounds. Ace (McCulloch, Capps' crew chief) worked real hard (over the winter) on everything to make this car quicker on the really good tracks and still keep our consistency on the marginal tracks. Sure enough, that's exactly what we did in testing. It's showing a lot of promise."
It's also looked good during the first few days at the Winternationals, where Capps sits third in the field. He followed up Thursday's 4.741 with a 4.787on today. "It rattled and rocked pretty good," Capps said. "We were trying to run in the (4.60s), but to run a 4.78 is good."
That felt good - Gary Scelzi, who finished a disappointing seventh in points last season, was all smiles on Friday after taking the No. 2 position with his 4.726 pass. "Zippy (crew chief Mike Neff) said he wasn't going to get caught up in these speeds," Scelzi said. "But we decided to go for it. That was my best pass in a year."
DSA_3178.jpgReleasing all his horses - Horsepower also appeared to be a problem for Tony Pedregon, who for while last season appeared to be on the verge of competing for the Funny Car title. He believes he has solved that problem for this season. "Without a doubt there were a couple of opportunities that were there for us (last year)," said Pedregon of his Quaker State Racing team, which was running third in points for part of the back portion of the season before finishing fifth. "As much as we felt that we could have done some things a little different, the majority of it was that it was mechanical issues. We were tapped out on what our tune-up was, and those are the things we've addressed (for this) year.
"Those are the things we feel are going to be better. We ran pretty good at the good tracks (in the fall)...we were just tapped out. There wasn't really a whole lot we could do, so we were stepping on it and breaking parts. But this year that's not going to be an issue, because we've found more power to make some gains in those areas."
Pedregon made a pretty good gain in today's qualifying session. After crossing the centerline on Thursday, he responded with a solid 4.749 run today to move into the No. 5 spot.
"We just wanted to back it down and get down the track," Pedregon said. "It was a nice safe run. We'll be ready for tomorrow."
T-Minus 23 - This may be the first race of 23 national events, but some competitors are already thinking about the new Countdown to the Championship. "It's so important to start here strong, especially now with the Countdown," Ron Capps said. "If you can (start out) like we did last year, winning five races early, you can kind of go into testing mode in the middle of the year, once you make the countdown. But it starts here because you don't want to start off on a bad foot."
Others, meanwhile, believe the strategy won't change drastically.
"I think we all take the same approach," Tony Pedregon said. "I understand the concept, and it's going to create a lot of excitement, and I know we've had that the past couple of years, but this will ensure us that there will be that kind of excitement at the end of the year.
"It's going to put a lot of stress on team cars because they are going to want to ensure that they finish in the top eight. I think that's going to be the focus. As we get closer to the middle of the year, it's going to be more of a focus than it is now. That's what it's going to be for us. It's going to be no different when we won the championship (in 2003). It's going to be start strong, get a good setup for the warmer tracks and then get in the top eight, because if you are, you're going to have a shot."
Happy to be back - Sometimes good things happen to good people. That certainly is the case for Jeff Arend, who couldn't be happier after landing the job of driving the 'Blue' Checker Schuck's Kragen Funny Car for Worsham Racing.
"This is like a dream come true," Arend said. "Obviously, I thought something like this might happen a little sooner, but some things take a long time. "I've known Del and some of the crew guys a long time, and now were gelling pretty good."
DSB_6353.jpgJeckyll and Hyde - Allen Johnson played Dr. Jeckyll to Richie Stevens Mr. Hyde Friday.
Johnson enjoyed a solid day, taking over the top spot in the class during second-day qualifying for the Winternationals. Stevens, Johnson's teammate, meanwhile, was a little less impressive. While Johnson turned some heads by zooming to the No. 1 spot with a stout 6.640 pass, Stevens is at the bottom of the list at No. 23 after his Dodge Stratus shook off the starting line and slumped to a 16.449 at 60.93 mph. The performance, or lack of, of his teammate is puzzling to Johnson, considering the cars are running identical tuneups.
"We can't understand that," Johnson said. "We stubbed our toe with him here in the fall, when he didn't qualify. We've just got something broke on his car. We've just got to find it."
Johnson's car has no such problems. He recovered nicely from Thursday's session, which saw him qualify No. 13 with a 6.691, to run to the top spot with his 6.640 at 207.85 mph on Friday. Jason Line, the 2006 class champion is second at 6.641 with Greg Anderson third at 6.647. "We was really good down low. It was just a good run all the way down the track," Johnson said. "It's great to be No. 1. I think (Anderson) not being able to get down the track was the reason for it. That's a really good team. To just be close to that car is something to be proud of. Our team has really worked hard over the winter and I think this year we are at least closer to that team."
DSB_6414.jpgBack in Line - Jason Line, who was just No. 12 on Thursday, moved up the qualifying ladder with a 6.641, which pushed him to the No. 2 hole on Friday. "It wasn't a great run, but it was a good run," Line said. "There's no question that we can improve on that, and obviously we were happy to move up in the field as well as we did. (First-day leader Greg Anderson's) Pontiac didn't fair quite as well but there's a lot we can learn from what his car did in that lane."
Distinguished by his absence? - POWERade competitor Tom Hammonds had hoped to make his professional return to competition this week at the 47th CARQUEST Auto Parts Winternationals on the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona drag strip, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Hammonds, the former NBA hoops star had a tough time in Las Vegas testing last week – and is in the process of moving into a new 11,000-square-foot shop in Crestview, Florida, where he’s hoping to get more top-end power from his DCRE2 Chevy Cobalt.
Incredibly, Hammonds’ team just plugged an engine into the Cobalt for the Pro Stock Showdown on The Strip at Las Vegas. Now they’ll go back to the shop and engineer Jimmy Oliver will start up the dyno this Tuesday. "When we went out there we just didn’t know what we had," Hammonds said from the Pomona media center. "I guess we’ll have a better idea when we put the Chevy on the dyno, though."
Look for Hammonds to make his 2007 debut closer to home at Gainesville in March.
Casual observer - Andrew Hines, who completed the trifecta of winning three Pro Stock Motorcycle championships in a row in 2006, came to visit Friday during the second round of qualifying.
Hines presided over his team’s "gong show" of four riders at Valdosta the last week of January, looking for a new teammate to complement his winning ways. "We got a huge stack of resumes and narrowed the choices down to four riders, then rented the track to check them out," he said.
(Apparently, nobody told George Bryce, who had intended to test at the same time and showed up at the track – something that G2 Motorsports does every year – but had to take a back seat and wait until V&H completed their private, four-rider test. "We’re 800 miles away from Valdosta and they’re just an hour and a half away," Hines explained.)
"We were looking for somebody who’s smaller than me, which [new teammate] Eddie [Krawiec] is," Hines said. "He showed the right potential and I think we’ll work well together." Krawiec is a two-time AMA Prostar drag racing runner-up in the 600 Super Sport class.




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Bolwar seems OK - Andy Bolwar, 49, of Paradise, Ariz. was transported by air to USC Medical Center in Los Angeles after the Super Comp competitor's Pontiac GTO got loose and crashed during Thursday's qualifying session. He was transported as a precaution for evaluation. NHRA officials said Bolwar was responding to commands prior to being transported.




b-bernstein.jpgBrandon's the one - Brandon Bernstein threw down the early gauntlet for the 2007 season, taking the top spot Thursday during qualifying for the 47th CARQUEST Auto Parts Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. Bernstein, who finished an under-the-radar third in POWERade Series points last season, set the pace with a solid 4.494-second pass at 331.61 mph. He was one of just three competitors in the 4.40s, joining No. 2 Doug Kalitta (4.495) and Rod Fuller (4.497). Tony Schumacher, who still has people in awe after last season's historic run to capture the POWERade Series title on this track in November, is fourth at 4.502.

"This meant everything, especially to our guys," Bernstein said. "We've worked really hard all winter long, and to come out here and to (run a .49) on the first run out the box, it's a morale booster. The guys are all bumped (crew chief) Tim (Richards) is pumped. I'm pumped. It feels good to lay down a run like that the first time out."

But Bernstein isn't quite counting his top-qualifier money just yet.

"The times are going to get better," he said. "Just look what Schumacher did here last November. If the track conditions hold up, we can all run in the 4.40s. In Phoenix (during testing), we ran .47, with the right conditions we can run 4.43,'s possible."

Bernstein also took note that Schumacher stated last week that Kalitta, who finished second in POWERade Series points last season, is his chief competitor.

"I like him (thinking that)," Bernstein said. "If he's thinking about Doug, he's not thinking about us, and we're going to sneak up on him again. We snuck on a lot of people last season. We just didn't lay it down at the very end. But that's a good place to be, I think."

bazemore.jpgStepping up to Top Fuel - Whit Bazemore, who drove Funny Cars for nearly 20 years and is now competing in Top Fuel, looked good in his first attempt driving the long and skinny cars. He drove his Matco Tools dragster to a 4.533 second pass at 324.28 mph, which was good enough for the No. 7 position on Thursday.

"The thing that was exciting for me was how comfortable I felt in the car when I was in the staging lanes," Bazemore said. "I felt at home and that was good for my confidence. This team is unbelievable and they’ve made the transition so easy. My car is perfect. With Lee (Beard) and Rob (Flynn), and you can see by how Hot Rod’s (Fuller) car ran, this is a great organization. Success in this sport comes from your team and they’ve made it easy on me.

"We knew that a low 4.50 would put us in the top half of the field and that’s where we wanted to be. We’re comfortable with that run. Now, we can go out and push it and try to run with the big dogs like Rod Fuller."

Back and ready to run: Hillary Will, involved in a horrific crash during last weekend's final test session in Las Vegas, has no qualms about getting back in the driver's seat for this weekend's 47th CARQUEST Auto Parts Winternationals.

"I know (crashing) is part of it," said Will, who is not yet in the Top Fuel field after suffering mechanical problems and running just a 12.386 on Thursday. "I was thankful that we had all the spare parts and that the guys worked from sun-up to sun-down the day after to rebuild the car. It felt good to get back in the car (while testing on Tuesday). It sounds weird, but I feel more confident.

"You have remember that I used to be a springboard diver in college, so I'm used to flipping and twisting. The nice thing with (drag racing) is that I'm fully clothed and not half naked."

Back and ready to run- Hillary Will, involved in a horrific crash during last weekend's final test session in Las Vegas, has no qualms about getting back in the driver's seat for this weekend's 47th CARQUEST Auto Parts Winternationals.

"I know (crashing) is part of it," said Will, who is not yet in the Top Fuel field after suffering mechanical problems and running just a 12.386 on Thursday. "I was thankful that we had all the spare parts and that the guys worked from sun-up to sun-down the day after to rebuild the car. It felt good to get back in the car (while testing on Tuesday). It sounds weird, but I feel more confident.

"You have remember that I used to be a springboard diver in college, so I'm used to flipping and twisting. The nice thing with (drag racing) is that I'm fully clothed and not half naked."

DSA_2384.jpgVietnam War veterans dedication - Sponsor and car owner Evan Knoll’s dedication of driver Melanie Troxel Top Fuel dragster to the veterans of the Vietnam War and MIA-POW operations brought some unusual fans to the CARQUEST Winternationals on the Auto Club Raceway at the Fairplex today.

Included among them was Lloyd Newell, 58, from Phelan, Calif. Newell, a Vietnam War veteran, said he came to the Pomona home of NHRA POWERade drag racing just to see the unveiling of Troxel’s rail, bearing the "Welcome Home" message, stars and stripes to honor MIA and POW from that, and this, era.

Newell, who served as an Air Traffic Control officer in Vietnam from October of 1969 through September of 1971, continuing that endeavor until fired by the late President Reagan, said that people have come to understand the difficulties faced by military personnel during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

"We didn’t get the best reception when we came home from that war," he said, "but I think most people have learned to hate the war, not hate the warriors" who were drafted or enlisted to fight it.

DSA_2469.JPGNewell had to leave early to get to work by 3:30 p.m. for his current employer, Lockheed Martin in Palmdale, Calif. "This was the only reason I came here today and the reception we’ve gotten has been so gratifying."

Troxel, who was also sporting a new look --a shorter haircut --, said she is honored to fly the colors of the Vietnam War veterans.

"Our veterans do so much for us, especially our Vietnam veterans," Troxel said. "They went over and fought a war -- young Americans who gave so much of themselves, so many of them gave their lives...This is one small thing we can give back to them. I'm so proud to be involved in this, to be giving back to the veterans. It's such a huge honor for me to give something back to them.

"I was barely born when we were fighting over in Vietnam, but I tried to educate myself and understand what happened over there. There are so many people today who are so behind our veterans and troops. You may not agree with the war, but you support them. This wasn't the case when our Vietnam veterans came home. They didn't get a hero's welcome home. This is a little opportunity to kind of make up for that, and let them know we really appreciate everything they did."

No Monostrut - Rod Fuller's Valvoline dragster was back sporting a two-bar strut during qualifying on Thursday. The team said the NHRA technical department has not yet approved the monostrut. It didn't hurt Fuller's performance. The Las Vegas resident qualified third after being one of only three competitors in the 4.40s, running a stout 4.497 at 329.34 mph.

Welcome aboard - Mark and Andy Carrier, owners of the Fram/Torco Top Fuel dragster driven by veteran Cory McClenathan, announced that long-time friend Scott Griffin is now a partner in Carrier Boyz Racing.

"I think it's a great advantage to have Scott as a partner," Mark Carrier said. "He brings a new outlook that we will be able to capitalize on."


dixon.jpgPrudhomme goes Sky Tel high -  Don Prudhomme Snake Racing, finally revealing the worst-kept secret in NHRA POWERade Series drag racing, officially announced Thursday that Sky Tel, a nation-wide wireless provider, is the new sponsor for the Top Fuel dragster driven by two-time series champion Larry Dixon. The company replaces Miller Brewing Co., which had sponsored the team since Dixon's rookie season in 1995.

"This a great day for the entire Snake Racing family," said Prudhomme, who also owns the Skoal Funny Car driven by Tommy Johnson Jr. "While we will all miss working with the folks from Miller, who where so supportive of us for over a decade -- including two championship seasons -- we couldn't be more excited about our new relationship with Sky Tel. They are an outstanding brand with substantial growth potential in a category that has been absent from the NHRA until now."




hight.JPGAnother No. 1 - Robert Hight, who has scored 15 top qualifier awards the past two seasons, put himself in position to add to the number after qualifying No. 1 following Thursday's afternoon session.

Hight, who finished second in Funny Car last season, set the pace for the nitro coupes with a stout 4.693-second pass at 326.79 mph. He bested Gary Scelzi's 4.728 and Ron Capps' 4.741. John Force, who won his 14th Funny Car title last season, is 14th after a sub-par 5.085 at 122.96.

"I not used to this (at Auto Club Raceway)," Hight said. "My first pass here (two years ago), the timing system didn't work and my run was thrown out. Then last year, I knocked the cones out on my first run and had to go down to the last run before we got in the show. So to start here on that number is pretty awesome. We had long winter with a lot of different changes and during testing we didn't get the numbers we had hoped for. But the last week or so, since we left Phoenix, (crew chief) Jimmy Prock has been stuck to that computer and he's made all the right decisions. It's been tweak this, tweak that. We have a new clutch in there, a new clutch system, so to start out at No. 1 on the first day is a tribute to him and the whole team. They are the ones who make it happen."

Still, Hight didn't come to this event with a lot of confidence, considering the changes they made on the car, but his crew chief once again gave him a 'Prock' rocket.

"We just had a lot of unanswered questions during testing," Hight said. "We had a lot of new stuff on the car that we weren't sure if they would work out. But they worked out (Thursday)."

It's also been a tough week for the team. Crew member Eric Lane's mother died and Prock's right-hand man is not with the team this weekend.

"She was really big for the community service with our team, a real nice lady," Hight said. "It was unexpected, so he is not here this weekend. I'm really proud of my other crew guys for stepping in and stepping up to the plate, picking up for him because he needs to be with his family. It was pretty awesome to watch my whole team work. Hopefully, she is right with us this weekend. She's probably really proud of her son, because he does a great job on our team."

a-force.jpgSolid start - Ashley Force, the daughter of 14-time Funny Car champion John Force, had a good start to her career after qualifying sixth on Thursday with a solid 4.810 at 281.19 mph. She drove it straight down the middle before suffering a malfunction in her fuel system near the 1,000-foot mark.

"It was a little more nerve wracking then I was expecting," Force said. "Up until this point, I was pretty relaxed. I kept telling myself, 'It's OK. I've raced for five years. I know the routine of burnouts, backing up and staging.' But once I got (to the starting line) and seeing dad run around like a chicken with its head cutoff, I tried so hard to remain calm but he's the one that got me nervous.

"But I'm so glad to get it over with. Our team accomplished what we set out to. The car went from A-to-B, we broke a few things, but we got down there. It's been very exciting (all the hype). But it has been stressful. I just wanted to make a good run for the team. I didn't want to screw it up for them after they've worked so hard."

A time slip to remember? - Kenny Bernstein's return to nitro coupe racing wasn't exactly a time slip to remember. Bernstein, who hasn't competed in the class since 1989, suffered tire shake about 100 feet in the run and was forced to shut off his Monster Energy Dodge Charger, slowing to a 12.935 at 60.80 mph. The good news is that the team still has three more qualifying sessions to make the 16-car field on Sunday.

KZ2S4238.jpgBeckman's wild ride - Jack Beckman had what he hopes is his last wild ride of the season this afternoon in his first qualifying session with the MTS flopper from Don Schumacher Racing's stables. Beckman's car dropped a cylinder about a third of the way down the track and caught fire.

"I just waited until it stopped and calmly pulled everything undone," he said. Wife Jenna, who will give birth to their first child (gender unknown - "but we're just hoping for a healthy kid") after the Gainesville race, was told that it was just a bit of oil. The next round at Firebird International Raceway in Chandler, Ariz. will be her last race because doctors have advised her not to fly.

"We'll just take the motor home out there," she said.


Twins - Contrary to popular belief, there were not two Robert Hights hanging around at Auto Club Raceway Thursday.

Eric Medlen’s new sponsorship deal with the Auto Club of Southern California came together so late that driving apparel provider Simpson was unable to get a suit made in time. Therefore, don’t blink when you see two guys wearing Robert Hight’s overalls this weekend. One of them is actually Eric Medlen.

"It's kind of joke at home because (Medlen) is a little guy," Hight said. "When John came to me and said, 'Hey, I need to see your spare firesuit. I want Eric to try it on.' I said, 'You're joking, right?' Eric's a little guy, but he fit in it. Then I said, 'Well, we need to get my name off (the back). It was pretty nice of Eric to leave my name on his firesuit.

"Everybody is getting confused. But it's great. Our colors are inverted, but it's neat having two Auto Club cars here."

arend.jpgNo Hard feelings? - While Jeff Arend was making his first run as the new driver in the Checker Schuck's Kragen 'blue' Funny Car, the team's former driver -- veteran Phil Burkart Jr. -- was also at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. Burkart was working with public address announcer Bob Frey as an analyst.

Frey asked Burkart if he and Arend were friends. "Yes, we were," Burkart said.

Must have TV - A member of the A&E film crew, which is here this weekend filming footage for 'Driving Force,' was seen sporting a t-shirt with the words, '14 episodes, 14 championships, 14,000 bleeps. She's obviously met John Force.




anderson.JPGPomona good luck - Greg Anderson just loves Southern California. And it's not just because of the sunshine.

The draw for the three-time class champion and winner of 43 national events since 2001, is Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, where Anderson has won five times since 2002, including a sweep last season.

Anderson got off to the right start towards No. 6 after earning the top spot during first-round qualifying on Thursday.

Anderson, who is using the new GM DRCE3 (third generation) engine in his Pontiac GTO, strolled to a 6.647 pass at 208.33 mph. He bested Dave Connolly's 6.656 and Kurt Johnson's 6.666.

"We won here a couple of months ago and we won here (at the Winternationals) a year ago," a very-pleased Anderson said. "This a great race track where we've had a lot of success over the years. It's smooth, downhill; it allows you to run some big speed and Pro Stock racers love big speeds.

"So it looks like our Summit Racing Pontiac is okay. We're happy with where we are. It's hard to say exactly how things will turn out this weekend, but it looks like we're all going to be fast."

The quickness of Anderson's Pontiac GTO can be attributed to the DRCE3. Anderson admitted it was a gamble to make the switch from the reliable second-generation powerplant, but that it was a decision the team had to make if they wanted to compete this year and beyond.

"This is the first time we've raced with the DRCE3," Anderson said. "We tested with another one in Las Vegas, things went pretty good, so we slid them in both (Jason Line's) and my car. We spent a lot of time over the winter building these engines. They're going to be good for us. We thought if we bit the bullet at the end of last year and got them close to where we were with the other stuff to start the season, then we'd have room to grow with them as the year moved forward.

"With the way the class is going with the high-revving RPM engines, we think we can run these engines a little higher, and that's what we elected to do. You'll see more of the GM teams headed in that direction in the near future because the engine is that good."


kj-johnson.jpgKJ is ready to rumble - Kurt Johnson, who finished fifth in the POWERade standings last season, is ready to compete for the series title after qualifying third with his 6.666 at 207.82 mph.

"I guess those 19 runs we made in Las Vegas certainly helped," Johnson said. "We came here with a completely different tune-up from the one we left here with in November. We made a pretty sweet run right out of the box. More importantly, it gives us something to work with. We'll take a look at the data, see what we need to fine-tune, and see if we can move our ACDelco Cobalt up a couple of spots."

 Sponsor and car owner Evan Knoll’s dedication of driver Melanie Troxel Top Fuel dragster to the veterans of the Vietnam War and MIA-POW operations brought some unusual fans to the CARQUEST Winternationals on the Auto Club Raceway at the Fairplex today.

Included among them was Lloyd Newell, 58, from Phelan, Calif. Newell, a Vietnam War veteran, said he came to the Pomona home of NHRA POWERade drag racing just to see the unveiling of Troxel’s rail, bearing the "Welcome Home" message, stars and stripes to honor MIA and POW from that, and this, era.

Newell, who served as an Air Traffic Control officer in Vietnam from October of 1969 through September of 1971, continuing that endeavor until fired by the late President Reagan, said that people have come to understand the difficulties faced by military personnel during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

"We didn’t get the best reception when we came home from that war," he said, "but I think most people have learned to hate the war, not hate the warriors" who were drafted or enlisted to fight it.

Newell had to leave early to get to work by 3:30 p.m. for his current employer, Lockheed Martin in Palmdale, Calif. "This was the only reason I came here today and the reception we’ve gotten has been so gratifying."

Troxel, who was also sporting a new look --a shorter haircut --, said she is honored to fly the colors of the Vietnam War veterans.

"Our veterans do so much for us, especially our Vietnam veterans," Troxel said. "They went over and fought a war -- young Americans who gave so much of themselves, so many of them gave their lives...This is one small thing we can give back to them. I'm so proud to be involved in this, to be giving back to the veterans. It's such a huge honor for me to give something back to them.

"I was barely born when we were fighting over in Vietnam, but I tried to educate myself and understand what happened over there. There are so many people today who are so behind our veterans and troops. You may not agree with the war, but you support them. This wasn't the case when our Vietnam veterans came home. They didn't get a hero's welcome home. This is a little opportunity to kind of make up for that, and let them know we really appreciate everything they did."



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tony_schumacher_02.jpgUnforgettable – Before your mind starts to wonder, Tony Schumacher still hasn’t forgotten the incredible performance last year in Pomona that enabled him to earn his third world championship.
“If I said I’ve stopped thinking about what happened that day, I would be lying,” said Schumacher as he prepped for the ’07 opener. “You can’t forget about history. What the U.S. Army team did last year was incredible.”

To get to the moment of truth last November, Schumacher and his team had to erase what was once a 336-point deficit almost halfway through the year.

“Listen, that wasn’t an easy task by any means,” he added. “But, I felt that if there was ever a team that could get over such a hurdle, it would be my team. When we got that first win at St. Louis the end of June, I felt confident we could get on a roll.”

Should Schumacher rise up and win a fourth straight crown, he will enter the Top Fuel record books as the only driver to turn that trick.

“I know the record is hanging out there, but I’m not overly concerned with it,” he said. “My goal is simply to win another world championship for the U.S. Army and all of our soldiers around the world. We race for the brave men and women who are fighting for our freedom on a daily basis. They’re all my heroes.”  

So Close, Yet So Far Away – Doug Kalitta was in the driver’s seat for the 2006 NHRA Top Fuel Championship up until the last round of the season. Even he could draw an equal amount of pride from such a tremendous accomplishment or frustration for losing, he chooses only to focus on the task at hand.

“That’s all in the past,” Kalitta said. “It’s a new season and everything has been reset. We can’t dwell on that stuff. We’ll go back to Pomona looking to win the event and none of what happened last year will affect that.”

brandon_bernstein_02.jpgNow for an encore - Brandon Bernstein sails in uncharted waters this weekend.

Coming off his most successful year behind the wheel of the Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster in which he made seven final round appearances and was a legitimate challenger for the Top Fuel championship, Bernstein’s performance in pre-season testing has been stellar.

“Our first full pass down the quarter-mile in Phoenix testing was a 4.487 second elapsed time at 328.46 miles per hour,” said Bernstein.

“Our team was excited to run a number like that pretty much right out of the box. We had another sub 4.50-second run as well and we were running speeds in excess of 330 miles per hour.

“It feels like we’re starting off right where we left off at the end of last year. Tim (crew chief Richards) certainly seems to have a handle on the combination.

“You can never tell about mechanical gremlins like those that bit us at the start of last season, but we’ve got our fingers crossed that we can get some early points and build a strong starting base.

“I’m feeling very, very comfortable in the car these days,” confided Bernstein, “and that is a result of more experience and a lot of trips down the race track. I’ve still got plenty to learn and there always seems to be something new coming at you, but we’re feeling very positive about the new season.”

Bernstein finished third in 2006 Top Fuel point standings, winning four events, the most wins in a single season for the second-generation driver. He was runner-up at three events and was the No. 1 qualifier three times.

clay_millican.jpgUncharted Waters, Part 2 – Clay Millican opens the new season with a new team owner, new sponsor, and new direction. The interesting part of it all – things look exactly the same.

Millican has spent weeks leading up to Pomona making test runs while arduously tuning up for the beginning of yet another drag racing season.

They have a new team owner (Evan Knoll) and a new challenge.
After seven years of International Hot Rod Association competition that included unprecedented results -- 50 victories and six consecutive season championships -- Millican steps into a new arena, the National Hot Rod Association, for the first time with a commitment to run all 23 races and compete for the prestigious POWERade Series crown.

The venues aren’t totally unfamiliar. Millican has 60 NHRA races -- 46 in the past four years -- on a resume that shows three runner-up finishes while running partial schedules.

“We are excited to be running all the NHRA races this year,” said Millican, who has been in test mode to be fully prepared for the traditional season-opening CARQUEST Auto Parts Winternationals at Pomona, Calif. “I want to thank Evan Knoll for giving us the opportunity. We’ve also been able to do a lot of testing, and that has been good for me. I get to drive the car, get to stage it and get good looks at the Christmas tree before we go to Pomona.

Millican’s team has added a technology trailer to better compete with his new full-time rivals. “We’ll be able to service our equipment and carry more spare parts with the new trailer. We want to be competitive right from the get-go. We’ll be running for the championship so we’ve got to be prepared. We know the rest of the teams are going to be prepared.”

How did it all come together?

Knoll, a drag racing entrepreneur who has sponsored several Top Fuel and Funny Car teams, watched as Millican piled up IHRA honors, at times defeating Knoll-backed race cars.

“One day when I was walking through the pits,” Millican said, “Evan said he wanted to talk to me. ‘Do you know how many millions (of dollars) I’ve spent to beat you?’ he said. ‘Since I couldn’t beat you, I’m going to own you.’ "

melanie_troxel.jpgAn Important Mission – Melanie Troxel was only three years old when the Vietnam War ended, but she understands that the war continues for others. This weekend the award-winning Top Fuel driver will kick off a 23-race tour of duty when she unveils the new Vietnam Veterans/POW-MIA Top Fuel dragster aimed to bring awareness to the issues facing soldiers and their families from that era.

The mission also includes restoring a sense of pride among those who served in a largely unpopular war.

“This has been a great experience,” Troxel said. “The outpouring of support we have already received from many of the Vietnam veterans has been very encouraging, and it touches your heart. The letters have been thanking us for remembering them and honoring their friends who didn't make it home. I am excited to honor our veterans in this way. I can't wait to get the season kicked off, get the car on the track, and show those brave soldiers just how much we appreciate their sacrifices. Hopefully we can attract a lot of attention to their bravery and sacrifice.”

The team receives regular emails from Vietnam Veterans praising their efforts. Almost all touch the heart.

"I feel good knowing there are some people that have the heart to remember us and to also honor those that did not come home," a gentleman named Terry wrote. "I only hope when race fans at the track see your car that they will also think of our young men and women serving and doing what our country has asked of them. I am not a racer, or a CEO of a company, just a regular guy who still works everyday at a Midwest steel mill in Indiana. I just wanted to say thank you. I wish the best of luck to your team in 2007 and beyond. You made a friend today."

Team owner Evan Knoll has been so touched by the experience that he plans to donate 100 percent of the apparel and diecast proceeds to a select group of Vietnam Veterans groups at the conclusion of the season. A themed T-shirt will be on sale at all 23 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series events. A diecast is planned as well.

“It's just the natural thing to do,” Knoll said. “When we made our commitment to these brave soldiers and the families of those still missing in action, we didn't make it on a percentage level. It's all or nothing. Make no mistake about it; we are committed to completing this mission and helping to our furthest extent.”

cory_mac.jpgFinally, A Clean Slate – It’s understandable if Cory McClenathan refers to his 2006 season as one he’d prefer to forget. Already the memories of chassis failures and accidents are behind him.
All it took was a good test session to validate many hours of off-season work.

McClenathan turned in his quickest quarter-mile run – 4.473 seconds, second best during last week’s test sessions at Phoenix. Earlier, the veteran driver posted his fastest speed, 333.16 mph, on a 4.514-second lap.

Everyone on this maturing team contributed during the off-season and the obvious goal now is to reel off competitive numbers during the Winternationals and maintain a consistency that will put McClenathan among the top eight in the new Countdown to the Championship.

“This was a great way to start the new season,” said McClenathan. “We are excited because we have a new Brad Hadman race car and new clutch pieces and everything has been working like it’s supposed to.”

McClenathan will be starting his 16th full season this weekend.

Aiming for a ring – Morgan Lucas is a pure Indianapolis Colts fan and later this season his family will be a stadium sponsor for the recently crowned NFL champions. The Colts players got their rings and Lucas wouldn’t mind having one of his own, albeit in a different sport.

There will be little time to celebrate. Lucas will have plenty to keep him occupied with three teams under his direction. His first priority will be his own Top Fuel ride, but also he's introducing the new Melanie Troxel team that will be sharing information and providing Morgan Lucas Racing with twice as much race data and input. Add to that his Lucas Oil Racing Top Alcohol A-Fuel dragster team, which will run for most of the year with the goal of taking the NHRA Lucas Oil Series Sportsman championship.

"We have a major agenda this year," said the 23-year old team manager/driver Lucas. "I know most people would think we've bitten off too much, but with the great people I have at all the stations, everything should run very smooth. This is our first race of the season and we want to kick it off in the right direction and we feel as if we can."


ron_capps.jpgSending a Message – Ron Capps used the test session in Phoenix to send a message. He wants the 2007 championship.

Capps and crew chief Ed “Ace” McCulloch produced a pass of 4.678 seconds for low elapsed time of the weekend.

"We're just trying to add to what we already had," said Capps, of Carlsbad, Calif. Capps was a five-time winner in 2006, the most wins of any driver in the Funny Car class. "And what we had last year was arguably one of the most consistent cars when you look at the whole year. We've never really been a team that tried to run for the pole in cooler conditions, usually during Friday night qualifying. Ace has always been the guy who just wanted to make sure we got down the track and didn't beat ourselves. The one thing he hates is hurting parts or beating ourselves, whether it's smoking the tires or whatever. And we've talked in the off season as a team, that when you look back, it's a pretty good season when you only find a couple of things that we did wrong that we could work on. We just need to run better and improve our qualifying positions.

"And that's what we concentrated on in testing. We still have our tune-up for the warm weather, but that's all we worked on in Phoenix. And sure enough, our first checkout run was probably the quickest run of the weekend, but it was a brand-new car so I had to shut it off. We came back and ran a .67 where I shut off at a little over 1200 feet (quarter-mile is 1320 ft.). And we ran a .71 on Monday shutting it off at 1220 feet. So, we're very, very happy with the results.

"I have talked pretty adamantly about how I feel on Sunday mornings racing with Ed McCulloch. He's a true professional racer. There's nobody I'd rather go to the starting line with on a Sunday morning. But, that being said, now I'm excited about running in the cool conditions, especially Friday night, because now I feel like we have a car that will go for the pole every time. And those extra points could become critical this year with the new Countdown to the Championship.

"I like starting (the season) in Pomona, because I live close to here. It's the heart of drag racing, which began out here in Southern California. I believe that Pomona definitely deserves to have the first and last race of the year."

del_worsham.jpgThank Goodness, A Clean Slate - Del Worsham finished 11th on the POWERade points chart last year, missing the top 10 for the first time since 1997. He also failed to win a race during the year, going winless for the first time since 2000. To wrap up the campaign, he made the highlight reels from coast to coast with a spectacular crash into, and over, the Pomona Raceway catch fences at the season's final event. What it all added up to were a lot of scribbles on his '06 chalkboard, including a number of formulas started but then scratched out, and at the bottom of the equation the answer was clearly, and simply, wrong.

Over the past three months, Worsham has worked hard to erase, scrub, and otherwise cleanse that slate. He now stands on the doorstep of the 2007 NHRA POWERade season, which begins this Thursday at the same Pomona Raceway track, and as he prepares to open that door and enter the long hallway of a new campaign, he does so with the eagerness of a rookie, tempered by the seriousness of a veteran. The slate is clean, and Worsham is ready to start the new math.

"We're all tied for first, right now," Worsham said. "Nobody is in the points lead and nobody is behind. We've been working hard all winter, we've made as many test laps as we could, trying new things and ironing out new approaches, and there's really nothing left to do but race, for real. Looking back on 2006, it's easier to see how it all went down now that I've had the off-season to think about it. Everything we've done to get ready for 2007 is based on where we got off track last year, and the overall idea is not just to catch up, but to leap ahead.

"Of course, making a big leap back to where we believe we belong, at the top of the points sheet, takes some bold moves. I won't be satisfied with just getting better, and the plan is not to take baby steps. The plan is to take everything we learned and apply it to being a much better team in '07, from top to bottom. We have some new blood, some new parts, and a lot of new energy around here. Everyone is amped up and ready to go."

Fans of the Checker, Schuck's, Kragen team may see a bevy of new faces on Worsham's red squad and figure a major house cleaning had to have taken place, but the truth lies more in the area of natural progression, as opposed to forced changes. Worsham saw no need to radically alter his veteran crew after the '06 season, but some individual personal decisions made that necessary.

"We had a good team, and they had been together for quite a while," Worsham said. "By the time the season ended, though, most of the guys were just ready to move on to something different in their lives. I hated to see them all go, but family is far more important than the race car, so we had to start over in a lot of ways. Fortunately, my most senior guy, Terry Snyder, is still here. We picked up some very talented people, guys we really wanted, and we've ended up with a great mix of veterans and rookies.
"Like on any sports team, that's a good way to go. The veteran guys get charged up having the rookies around, and the new guys have some real leadership to follow. They've all come together very quickly during the preseason, and I'm confident they'll get even better as we go. It does take any team a while to come together as a unit, but these guys are already well down that road."

gary_scelzi.jpgWild Thing, I think you’re back again – Gary Scelzi is already smiling.

"I'm really looking forward to this season, because I feel that we've got a legitimate shot of winning another championship," said Scelzi, a Fresno, Calif., native. "We've got three new crew members, all from within DSR (Michael Knudsen, Rick Pearson and Joe Fitzpatrick, who join Mike "Zippy" Neff, Aaron Brooks, Chris Lewis, Rod Centorbi and Josh Adams). They're so excited about this season. They're fresh, they're excited, they want to work hard, they want to do well, and they haven't even won a round of racing with us yet. And that brings new life into all of us because they'll do whatever it takes."

Scelzi has learned that Pomona can be a feast or famine experience.

"Pomona is either real kind or real rough," said Scelzi. "But I enjoy it because it's close to home, I've had a lot of success here, I've won a lot of races here, won Bud Shootouts here, so it's a good time. The Winternationals are always exciting because everybody's stuff is new. Everybody's got their new trick trailers painted, their races cars are new, new uniforms, everything is new and fresh. You know it's the beginning of a war."

Scelzi's Pomona record includes three Top Fuel wins (Pomona 1 in 1997, Pomona 1 and 2 in 2000), but no Funny Car victories. He's qualified No. 1 four times at Pomona Raceway: three times in Top Fuel, and once in Funny Car, in last year's Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA finals. 

jack_beckman.jpgLest we forget – The Funny Car division would be wise to remember the tremendous season-ending effort exerted by Jack Beckman.

Beckman is still reeling from his stunning end to a very short 2006 season as a rookie in the Funny Car class, where in only five events he reached two final rounds, won once, qualified No. 1 once, and set national records in elapsed time and top speed.

With backing from Mail Terminal Services for the Dodge Charger R/T he'll drive for Don Schumacher Racing, Beckman is ready to compete in his first full season in the Funny Car class, as the 2007 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series season opens this weekend at the CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

"There's that shock about what happened last year," said Beckman, of North Hills, Calif. "Getting a call from Don (Schumacher), going and finishing my licensing, debuting the car a week and a half week later, winning, setting the national records, getting married. Everything was almost dizzying.

"And the ESPN guys said to me after the (Pomona 2 '06) final round, 'I bet you're regretful that the season is ending now with all the momentum you guys had.' I said, No, I really need about four weeks just to digest everything that's happened. So, I think now I'm starting to accept the fact that we're going to be at every race and that we will be a legitimate contender for the championship.”

"MTS is big on the car, we've gone and tested, so I think everything has become much more real to me in the last couple of weeks. And now, instead of running just a partial season, we're starting from the first race with the continuity of having the same sponsor all year long. It's just sinking into me."

kenny_bernstein_01.jpgChallenge - Six-time NHRA champion Kenny Bernstein acknowledges that at times his enthusiasm for a project overrides the knowledge of just how enormous a task really is.

“Before we made our comeback announcement the end of last summer,” said Bernstein, “I knew our Monster sponsorship was going to come together, and I had already had Murf McKinney building the Funny Car chassis and had orders in on some of the rolling equipment.  For months, I made ‘to do’ notes on my yellow legal tablet and didn’t get much sleep.  It seemed my brain was always switched on.

“Remember we didn’t have the first Mac tool or toolbox.

“Crew chief Ray Alley, assistant crew chief Johnny West, and the entire team worked well into the night seven days a week to get the race car, transporter, and support vehicles on the road to testing.

“Sheryl (wife) has put in a tremendous amount of time designing hospitality and race trailer interiors, team uniforms, and attending to what must be millions of details.  In fact, the entire staff at Kenny Bernstein Racing has pulled together to help launch the Monster Energy/Lucas Oil Funny Car team.

Bernstein tested in Vegas and then Phoenix before earning his license. He also got a bit more than he bargained for.

 “After a few days of this at Firebird Raceway, we got some help from some friends.  The first was John Force, who is a great champion with a great heart.  John sent Austin Coil, Bernie Fedderly, and John Medlen over to lend some assistance.  Those men comprise a big part of his brain trust.  I owe a big debt of gratitude to John for helping us sort through some tuning issues.

“Also Gary Scelzi came to our aid. We received a lot of support from the drivers that were testing and we are truly humbled by the actions of the members of NHRA drag racing family that lent a helping hand.”

mike_ashley.jpgThe Other Ashley - Mike Ashley (Not Ashley Force) adds another chapter to his colorful history in drag racing this week by announcing the launch of his "007 Bat with a Vengeance Tour."

Coming in to the season opener in Pomona, Ashley brings an arsenal of power lead by crew chief Brian Corradi. Former champion Mark Oswald and Ashley's Pro Mod crew chief Chuck Ford head up the team's research and development efforts, giving the team an added technology advantage.

"I'm excited about our '007 Tour' and the prospects for our success this year," Ashley said. "Our initial test session went pretty much according to plan. There are several key components that have been tested are now on our car, and we are already showing improvement, consistency, and performance. I have to say Brian, Mark, and the entire team have really impressed me."

The team's alliance with the rest of the Torco and Lucas Oil teams brings additional resources and experience to the field as well.

"The alliance will give us more wheels on the track and more data to base our decisions on. I don't just want to compete this year -- I expect to win. With such a great group of minds and resources we're positioned to do just that," Ashley said. "Here's the thing: racing is all about numbers and percentages, and making them work in your favor. The difference between first and last is fractions of a second, a small percentage, and I know we've planned and prepared this team that will make the difference.

"I'm ready to go."


allen_johnson.jpg It’s a Horsepower Thing – It’s amazing how horsepower can motivate a Pro Stock driver. That’s the feeling floating around the J&J pits with Team Mopar drivers Allen Johnson and Richie Stevens.

“The power that Roy Johnson is making is unbelievable,” Stevens Jr. said. “The consistent qualifying, which comes from having good power, has been a real big plus. It takes team chemistry to make things work, which J&J definitely has. It builds confidence, when you go up there and you know that you have a team that is behind you and supporting you. I feel really relaxed with them behind me.”

“Dad [Roy] has done a real good job on the engines, so I feel confident,” said Johnson. “I think we’ve got our attack together on the chassis and track setup a lot better than we did going into the start of last year.”

“I’m ready,” said Stevens. “I almost didn’t want last year to end, as well as we were doing toward the end of the season. It was kind of hard to say goodbye, with both Allen and me doing great. I had the best last quarter of all the seasons I’ve driven. We’ll just try to pick up where we left off last year. I feel confident about the season. We did some testing last month in Valdosta [Ga.], and everything went good. I’m feeling pretty pumped about it. I hope one of us can leave Pomona with the points lead.”

jeg_coughlin.jpgYes, He’s Excited – Nevermind the fact he’s earned three world championships and won 47 nationals in NHRA competition, Jeg Coughlin, Jr., refuses to get rattled even though he buzzes inside with excitement.

"It's Pomona," Coughlin said. "To a drag racer, it's like a shrine to everything you love. The hair on the back of my neck stands up every time I come through the gates of this racetrack. I hope that feeling never goes away."

In September, Coughlin announced a return to Pro Stock competition as part of Victor Cagnazzi's multi-car racing operation. He used the grand stage of the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis to unveil the next car he hopes to take to the championship -- the Slammers Ultimate Milk Chevrolet Cobalt.

As a tune-up, Coughlin ran three events at the end of the'06 season, immediately recording his career-best elapsed time and top speed of 6.604 at 208.78 mph. He's also tested extensively this off-season, most recently at the Pontiac Showdown preseason event in Las Vegas.

"We're thrilled with how the car is responding," Coughlin said. "Of the three days I was in Las Vegas, we had the quickest car Friday and Sunday, so two of the three days. On Saturday, my teammate Dave Connolly won the Showdown so all in all it was a great weekend for Cagnazzi Racing and the entire Slammers Ultimate Milk Teams. To say we're excited for the start of the season would be an understatement."

kurt_johnson.jpgA Difference – The paint scheme is the same. His championship approach is the same, yet Kurt Johnson admits there’s a world of difference for his team in 2007.

"Our ACDelco Cobalt may look the same as it did last year, but we've made a few changes to it, trying to go quicker and faster," said Johnson.   "The crew is also a little different with Nate Allbritain joining Justin Belfance and myself, as well as Terry (crew chief Adams) coming on board to help Dad's (six-time champion Warren) and my teams.  
"So far, the changes are working out well and our attitude couldn't be better.   We're expecting to go out and win our share of races.  Certainly our ultimate goal is the POWERade championship, but we've got a long season ahead of us and, on top of everything else, a new championship format to contend with.   It's going to be interesting, but we're determined to do it better than everyone else."

A Difference, Part 2 – Warren Johnson refuses to make 2007 a repeat of last year. In taking that stance, the veteran team owner/driver made some changes of his own as well.

warren_johnson.jpg "With the addition of a couple new crew members, and the inclusion of some new components on our GM Performance Parts GTO, we certainly have our share of questions coming into Pomona," admitted Johnson.  "Fortunately, over the years Terry (new crew chief Adams) and I have been pretty good at coming up with the right answers.  I believe we made substantial progress during our test session in Las Vegas, but we really won't know until the first qualifying session on Thursday.  The pieces are there – it's just up to us to put them in the right places."
One factor working in the six-time champion's favor is the location of this event. In his previous 27 Winternationals appearances at the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Johnson has an unparalleled record of success with five wins, 11 final rounds and an impressive 59-21 elimination round record.   Acknowledging that prior performance has little effect on an upcoming race, he is quick to point out that the most important by-product is the logbook of extensive tuning notes compiled during that time.
"We've been fortunate to do well at the Winternationals over the years, which speaks volumes about the effectiveness of our racing program," said Johnson.   "More than anything else, however, that success has allowed us to compile substantial documentation on the performance characteristics of the Pomona racing surface.   Naturally, you have to factor in how it has been affected by the weather and such, and we have to adapt the information to the specific race package we are using, but that recipe book's importance cannot be underestimated.
"This race will certainly be a challenge.  It will be the GM Performance Parts GTO crew's first test under fire, so to speak, with the stands full of fans and sponsors, and you always want to start the season off on a good note.   The potential is certainly there and everyone has the right attitude going in, so we should be in good shape. Time will tell."