Every February since 1961, fans have flocked to Southern California not just for the un-winterlike weather, but also for one of drag racing’s grandest traditions: the unveiling of new cars, drivers, teams, and sponsorships at the NHRA POWERade season opener. The Big Go West plays out at the fabled facility known for its outstanding traction, smooth surface, and potential for record performances. Teams hope to use the opener as a springboard in their pursuit of a spot in the Countdown to 8 championship program that ends in August.





scelziDSA_4404.JPGFour-time series champion Gary Scelzi quickly erased memories of a disappointing 2006 season by winning Sunday's CARQUEST Auto Parts Winternationals after final-round opponent Robert Hightcrossed the centerline.

Reigning Rookie of the Year J.R. Todd also found Pomona's winner's circle, while three-time Pro Stock champ Greg Anderson successfullydefended this race title from one year ago.

After it appeared that Hight had beaten Scelzi for the Funny Car title, NHRA officials quickly determined that Hight's Auto Club Ford Mustang touched the centerline, resulting in automatic disqualification per NHRA rule. It was Scelzi's 34th NHRA win and ninth in Funny Car.

It was a well deserved victory for Scelzi's team as the four-time series champion had trouble with his parachutes in the semifinals and ended upin the sand trap. As his final-round run of 4.716 at 332.26 mph proved,the crew got his Mopar Oakley Dodge Charger R/T repaired in time.

"We didn't think we had anything for [them] in the final," Scelzi said. "We thought we'd try to run a high 4.6 and see what happened. I didn't see him until 700 feet and then he just went right by me. I saw the win light in his lane and it was a let down. The guys on the radio told me he beat me on a holeshot and here I was thinking I'd cut a good toddDSA_4371.JPGlight. Then they said he was DQ'd and I thought that was a really cruel joke to play on me."

After a dramatic day of qualifying on Saturday, both John and Ashley Force lost in the opening round.

Todd's victory was his fourth in 20 career Top Fuel starts. This one wasextremely impressive as he followed up a 4.699-second, first-round passon a freshly-washed track with a pair of 4.47s and a 4.482 at 324.98 mph in the final round.

"I never expected things to happen as suddenly as it has for me," Todd said. "It's pretty surprising to me, to be honest. When you have a guy like [crew chief] Jimmy Walsh in your corner you're going to be good.That guy is the first one in the shop every day and the last one to leave each night. He's relentless."

Last July in Denver, Todd became the first African-American to win a TopFuel race. Since then he has won four times in five final rounds in those 12 starts.

"Last year was kind of a Cinderella deal for us but by the end of theyear we weren't surprised by our performance any more," he said. "This year we're for real and I think all the other teams know that now."

andersonDSA_4412.JPGAfter struggling at times last year with his starting line procedures, Anderson was impressive here with a .020-second reaction time average on the day. In the final he powered his Summit Racing Pontiac GTO to a 6.651 at 207.05, while Stanfield trailed all the way with a 7.001 at 163.65, also in a GTO.

"It just shows how messed up in the head you can get at times because I haven't driven like this in two years," Anderson said. "This place is magic for me. That was our sixth win here. When it's 60 degrees like  it was today we just love it because you can pour all your power into the track and show off what you built over the winter. It looks like we did just a little bit better job than everyone else."

The NHRA POWERade Series Countdown to the Championship continues with the Checker Schuck's Kragen NHRA Nationals, Feb. 23-25 at Firebird International Raceway near Phoenix.


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saturday_02.jpgJohn Force kept his NHRA record qualifying streak alive at 393 races, while his daughter Ashley qualified for her first NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series event Saturday at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

Drama was high as the elder Force needed his best run of the weekend to make the starting lineup at the CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals. He produced a miracle run and in the process bumped his rookie daughter from the 16-car order. However, on her final qualifying attempt she also powered her Castrol/Auto Club Ford Mustang to acareer-best performance and earned her first starting position.

Tony Schumacher, Gary Scelzi and Greg Anderson were the No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the season-opening event, the first of23 races in the NHRA POWERade Countdown to the Championship.

Ashley will race teammate Robert Hight in Sunday's 11 a.m. eliminations, while John will square off against longtime nemesis Cruz Pedregon. John was relieved about keeping the record going, but was ecstatic about Ashley's performance.

saturday_03.jpg"She's a little trooper and smoked it right on down the track," the 14-time world champ said. "It's the greatest show on earth and all I wanted was to be in the show and I wanted her to be in. This is a great day. She's learned the drill. I believe in the long run she's going to be a great star for her sport. I took a chance and today she proved thats he can hold her own. I am proud of her. Look at the other girls outthere. It's great." 

Ashley overcame her nerves and was able to post a 4.790 on the high-stakes final qualifying attempt. She is the 10th woman to compete in a Funny Car in NHRA history. She hopes to become the first woman to win in the 7,000 horsepower category.

"This day has been so intense," Ashley said. "It's easy to say that you aren't going to be nervous and go up there and do your normal routine. 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. The numbers thing was in my head too. Thankfully everything worked out. It couldn't have been anybetter. I am glad all of us are in the show. I am excited to raceagainst Robert. The only thing I know is that for the first time ever my little niece (Hight's daughter Autumn) is not going to be rooting for metomorrow."

saturday_04.jpgSix-time NHRA champion Kenny Bernstein failed to qualify in his return to Funny Car competition.Schumacher posted a 4.472 at 331.36 mph in his U.S. Army dragster tolead the quickest Top Fuel field in NHRA history. It was Schumacher's
36th career top qualifying effort. His dragster was consistent all weekend, producing times of 4.502, 4.483, 4.485, and a 4.472.

"Running four passes in a row like that is more impressive to me thanbeing No. 1 qualifier," said Schumacher, a four-time winner at this facility. "We've had great moments here and we'd like to have another one tomorrow. It means a lot to leave the first race of the year with a win."

Schumacher, who had a dramatic ending to his championship quest here last November, appreciated the drama that unfolded today in Funny Car.

"Days like today make you stand up and watch," Schumacher said. "I'm still a fan at heart and it was fun to watch every pass out there, especially in that last round. I tell everyone that I'm just a big a fanof this stuff as they are. I really am. If you didn't like watching thatlast session, I guess you don't like drag racing."

Scelzi also led the quickest field in his category, powering his Mopar oakley Dodge Charger to a career-best performance of 4.692 at 333.49mph.

"To have a racecar that goes down the racetrack four times with the lowest of those passes being a 4.75 feels so good I can't even describeit," Scelzi said. "I don't want to jinx myself, but usually when you go through qualifying like that you tend to have good Sundays."Three-time world champ Anderson set a track speed mark in leading thePro Stock field with a 6.634 at a track record speed of 209.04 mph in his Summit Racing Pontiac GTO.

"We've had a great weekend so far," Anderson said. "I guess the onlything that would be better is if we were a part of the Force family. It's exciting watching what's happening with that group and it's just as fun for us racers as it is for the fans. I'll be watching that classtomorrow just like everyone else."

First-round pairings for professional eliminationsSunday for the 47th annual CARQUEST Auto Parts Winternationals at AutoClub Raceway at Pomona, the first of 23 events in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.  Pairings based on results in qualifying, which ended Saturday.

Top Fuel -- 1. Tony Schumacher, 4.472 seconds, 331.36 mph  vs. 16. Joe
Hartley, 4.575, 322.34; 2. Rod Fuller, 4.481, 329.75 vs. 15. Doug
Herbert, 4.566, 318.09; 3. Brandon Bernstein, 4.494, 331.61  vs. 14.
Alan Bradshaw, 4.552, 321.04; 4. Doug Kalitta, 4.495, 328.46  vs. 13.
Hillary Will, 4.545, 325.30; 5. J.R. Todd, 4.500, 325.77  vs. 12.
Melanie Troxel, 4.541, 332.51; 6. Larry Dixon, 4.504, 328.54  vs. 11.
Bob Vandergriff, 4.536, 322.65; 7. Whit Bazemore, 4.507, 329.75  vs. 10.
Cory McClenathan, 4.530, 334.07; 8. David Grubnic, 4.517, 327.35  vs. 9.
Mike Strasburg, 4.518, 328.78.

Funny Car -- 1. Gary Scelzi, Dodge Charger, 4.692, 333.49  vs. 16. Jim
Head, Toyota Solara, 4.795, 325.45; 2. Robert Hight, Ford Mustang,
4.693, 326.79  vs. 15. Ashley Force, Mustang, 4.790, 312.42; 3. Ron
Capps, Charger, 4.709, 331.45  vs. 14. Bob Gilbertson, Dodge Stratus,
4.788, 312.86; 4. John Force, Mustang, 4.709, 326.40  vs. 13. Cruz
Pedregon, Chevy Monte Carlo, 4.784, 317.27; 5. Tim Wilkerson, Monte
Carlo, 4.723, 326.95  vs. 12. Mike Ashley, Charger, 4.778, 331.61; 6.
Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.734, 325.53  vs. 11. Jeff Arend, Monte Carlo,
4.759, 323.97; 7. Scott Kalitta, Solara, 4.741, 317.05  vs. 10. Tony
Pedregon, Monte Carlo, 4.749, 317.42; 8. Eric Medlen, Mustang, 4.744,
325.22  vs. 9. Tommy Johnson Jr., Chevy Impala, 4.748, 324.98.

Pro Stock -- 1. Greg Anderson, Pontiac GTO, 6.634, 209.04  vs. 16.
Richie Stevens, Dodge Stratus, 6.683, 206.83; 2. Allen Johnson, Stratus,
6.640, 207.85  vs. 15. V. Gaines, Stratus, 6.677, 207.40; 3. Jason Line,
GTO, 6.641, 208.46  vs. 14. Warren Johnson, GTO, 6.676, 207.56; 4. Dave
Connolly, Chevy Cobalt, 6.656, 207.94  vs. 13. Max Naylor, Stratus,
6.675, 207.37; 5. Kenny Koretsky, Cobalt, 6.659, 207.82  vs. 12. Roger
Brogdon, Stratus, 6.672, 207.69; 6. Jeg Coughlin, Cobalt, 6.661, 208.46
vs. 11. Jim Yates, GTO, 6.671, 207.94; 7. Kurt Johnson, Cobalt, 6.666,
207.82  vs. 10. Greg Stanfield, GTO, 6.669, 207.75; 8. Mike Edwards,
GTO, 6.667, 207.75  vs. 9. Tom Martino, GTO, 6.669, 207.91. 


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DSA_3144.jpgFour-time and reigning Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher raced to the qualifying lead Friday at the 47th annualCARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals with a performance of 4.483 at 328.30 mph at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

Funny Car's Robert Hight and Pro Stock's Allen Johnson joined him on the provisional low qualifier podium at the midway point of time trials.

Representing the U.S. Army, Schumacher assumed his usual position atopthe Top Fuel ladder after improving on his previous run of 4.503 at 324.20 mph. Spoiled by his world-record-setting performance here in November, Schumacher almost seemed disappointed by Friday's run.

"Don't get us wrong, we're happy to be No. 1 qualifier," Schumacher said, "but after running 4.44 in testing two weeks ago in Phoenix andthen we come here with the exact same car, you just want more. I guess we just expect a lot of ourselves."

DSA_3313.jpg Thursday leader Brandon Bernstein experienced engine trouble down-track in session two and didn't improve on his 4.494 at 331.61 mph in hisBudweiser dragster, slipping one slot to second place overall.

Hight overpowered the racetrack a couple hundred feet into his second pass but his 4.693 at 326.79 mph in his Auto Club Ford Mustang kept himin the Funny Car lead.

"The track's definitely in better shape today than it was yesterday and after running that 4.69 we decided to really get after it," Hight said."Obviously we were a little too aggressive and spun the tires. Now we'll concentrate on making sure it goes down the track every time because you have to do that to win rounds on race day.

"Ashley Force dropped to 12th place on the grid after getting out of the groove and giving up on her second attempt in her Castrol Mustang. She's still in much better shape than her father John Force, who has yet tomake the field. The elder Force has qualified for a record 392 consecutive events entering this one. Kenny Bernstein is also outside the top 16.

DSB_6406.jpg "If I was ever going to not make [the field] after 392 races in a row,it would be this one when Ashley gets her first start," John Force said. "I already told Kenny that if both of us don't make it I'm gonna challenge him to a foot race right out there on Sunday morning."

Johnson drove to the lead in his Team Mopar Dodge Stratus, covering the distance in 6.640 at 207.85 mph, just six hundredths of a second off the track record.

"Any time you're even close to those guys it feels great," Johnson said, "and I think we're closer to them now than ever before. It's exciting."

Johnson's run put him ahead of reigning champ Jason Line and three-timechamp Greg Anderson. The Summit Racing Pontiac GTO teammates have owned the class for the last four years but are second and third here. * * *

Results Friday after qualifying for the 47th annualCARQUEST Auto Parts Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, first of 23 events in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.  Qualifying will continue Saturday for Sunday's final eliminations.

Top Fuel -- 1. Tony Schumacher, 4.483 seconds, 328.30 mph; 2. Brandon
Bernstein, 4.494, 331.61; 3. Doug Kalitta, 4.495, 328.46; 4. Rod Fuller,
4.497, 329.34; 5. Larry Dixon, 4.504, 327.59; 6. J.R. Todd, 4.515,
320.43; 7. David Grubnic, 4.517, 327.35; 8. Whit Bazemore, 4.533,
324.28; 9. Melanie Troxel, 4.548, 329.34; 10. Alan Bradshaw, 4.552,
321.04; 11. Hillary Will, 4.561, 320.28; 12. Doug Herbert, 4.566,
318.09; 13. Morgan Lucas, 4.630, 302.75; 14. Cory McClenathan, 4.674,
317.05; 15. Clay Millican, 4.679, 315.56; 16. Mike Strasburg, 4.709,

Funny Car -- 1. Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.693, 326.79; 2. Gary
Scelzi, Dodge Charger, 4.726, 330.80; 3. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.741,
327.82; 4. Scott Kalitta, Toyota Solara, 4.741, 317.05; 5. Eric Medlen,
Mustang, 4.744, 325.22; 6. Tony Pedregon, Chevy Monte Carlo, 4.749,
317.42; 7. Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.774, 325.53; 8. Tommy Johnson Jr.,
Chevy Impala, 4.778, 322.34; 9. Bob Gilbertson, Dodge Stratus, 4.788,
312.86; 10. Jim Head, Solara, 4.795, 316.01; 11. Del Worsham, Monte
Carlo, 4.800, 327.03; 12. Ashley Force, Mustang, 4.810, 281.19; 13. Gary
Densham, Monte Carlo, 4.830, 320.74; 14. Tim Wilkerson, Monte Carlo,
4.833, 317.19; 15. Cruz Pedregon, Monte Carlo, 4.843, 302.01; 16. Jeff
Arend, Monte Carlo, 4.849, 323.97.

Pro Stock -- 1. Allen Johnson, Dodge Stratus, 6.640, 207.85; 2. Jason
Line, Pontiac GTO, 6.641, 208.46; 3. Greg Anderson, GTO, 6.647, 208.33;
4. Dave Connolly, Chevy Cobalt, 6.656, 207.94; 5. Kenny Koretsky,
Cobalt, 6.659, 207.82; 6. Jeg Coughlin, Cobalt, 6.664, 208.46; 7. Kurt
Johnson, Cobalt, 6.666, 207.82; 8. Mike Edwards, GTO, 6.667, 207.75; 9.
Tom Martino, GTO, 6.669, 207.91; 10. Greg Stanfield, GTO, 6.669, 207.75;
11. Jim Yates, GTO, 6.671, 207.43; 12. Roger Brogdon, Stratus, 6.672,
207.69; 13. Max Naylor, Stratus, 6.675, 207.37; 14. Warren Johnson, GTO,
6.676, 207.56; 15. V. Gaines, Stratus, 6.690, 207.24; 16. Justin
Humphreys, GTO, 6.696, 206.86.


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DSA_2666.jpg Top Fuel driver Brandon Bernstein opened the 2007 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series season Thursday at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona with a class-leading 4.494-second pass at 331.61 mph in his Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster.

Two other racers with title aspirations -- Funny Car's Robert Hight and Pro Stock's Greg Anderson -- also took early leads in their respective categories at the CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals. The $2 million race is the first of 23 events in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

 Bernstein led a trio of Top Fuel drivers in the 4.4-second range. Aside from his smooth pass, '06 championship runner-up Doug Kalitta went 4.495 at 323.50 mph in his Mac Tools dragster, while Rod Fuller drove to a 4.497 at 329.34 mph in his Valvoline dragster. Four-time NHRA champion Tony Schumacher, the winner of the last three POWERade titles, just missed the 4.4-second range with a 4.502 at 324.20 mph in his U.S. Army dragster, placing him fourth.

DSA_2786.JPG "It shook a little about 60 feet out but it cleared up right away and my vision cleared up and then it just took off," Bernstein said. "We were going 277 mph at half-track so it was hauling. It's great to be No. 1 but it's obviously very early. We had a lot of momentum at the end of last year and we're hoping to keep that alive heading into this season.

"Rookie Funny Car pilot Ashley Force also made news in her debut, running 4.810 at 281.19 mph in her Castrol/Auto Club Ford Mustang to qualify sixth overall, well ahead of her 14-time champ father John Force, whowas 14th. Whit Bazemore, who crossed over from Funny Car to Top Fuel this year, posted a 4.533 in his Matco Tools dragster to grab seventh place, while returning legend Kenny Bernstein will have to wait another day to make the Funny Car field after shutting off early in his MonsterEnergy/Lucas Oil Dodge Charger.

With all eyes on Funny Car newcomer Ashley Force, it ended up being her teammate Hight earning the spotlight in his Auto Club Ford Mustang witha class-leading 4.693 at 326.79 mph.

DSA_2645.jpg "It's very exciting to see Ashley out here running with us," Hight said. "I'm really impressed. There's all this pressure on her coming into this race and with her dad being a little nuts, yet somehow she's able to block it all out when she's in that car and she went straight down the track. John wants us to take over for him and it's cool that he'swatching us all grow."

Anderson led Pro Stock in his Summit Racing Pontiac GTO by clocking a 6.647 at 208.33 mph.

"We look OK," Anderson said. "We honestly didn't finish these motors andmake the decision to run them here until a week ago. I think we have a workable product with lots of room for improvement, which is good because with the way the points deal is now you need to peak at the end of the year."

Results Thursday after qualifying for the 47th annualCARQUEST Auto Parts Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, first of 23 events in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.  Qualifyingwill continue Friday for Saturday's final eliminations.

Top Fuel -- 1. Brandon Bernstein, 4.494 seconds, 331.61 mph; 2. Doug
Kalitta, 4.495, 323.50; 3. Rod Fuller, 4.497, 329.34; 4. Tony
Schumacher, 4.502, 324.20; 5. Larry Dixon, 4.504, 327.59; 6. J.R. Todd,
4.515, 320.43; 7. Whit Bazemore, 4.533, 324.28; 8. Alan Bradshaw, 4.552,
321.04; 9. Melanie Troxel, 4.632, 322.50; 10. Cory McClenathan, 4.674,
317.05; 11. Clay Millican, 4.679, 315.56; 12. Mike Strasburg, 4.709,
291.26; 13. Bob Vandergriff, 4.730, 282.60; 14. Doug Herbert, 4.790,
268.22; 15. Morgan Lucas, 5.084, 198.93; 16. Steven Chrisman, 5.116,

Funny Car -- 1. Robert Hight, Ford Mustang, 4.693, 326.79; 2. Gary
Scelzi, Dodge Charger, 4.728, 330.80; 3. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.741,
327.82; 4. Tommy Johnson Jr., Chevy Impala, 4.778, 322.34; 5. Jim Head,
Toyota Solara, 4.795, 316.01; 6. Ashley Force, Mustang, 4.810, 281.19;
7. Eric Medlen, Mustang, 4.819, 288.64; 8. Gary Densham, Chevy Monte
Carlo, 4.830, 320.74; 9. Tim Wilkerson, Monte Carlo, 4.833, 317.19; 10.
Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.883, 284.45; 11. Jeff Arend, Monte Carlo,
5.018, 265.22; 12. Grant Downing, Pontiac Firebird, 5.026, 298.47; 13.
Bob Bode, Monte Carlo, 5.073, 288.03; 14. John Force, Mustang, 5.085,
122.96; 15. Del Worsham, Monte Carlo, 6.270, 153.96; 16. Tony Bartone,
Monte Carlo, 6.412, 139.78.

Pro Stock -- 1. Greg Anderson, Pontiac GTO, 6.647, 208.33; 2. Dave
Connolly, Chevy Cobalt, 6.656, 207.94; 3. Kurt Johnson, Cobalt, 6.666,
207.82; 4. Jim Yates, GTO, 6.671, 207.43; 5. Roger Brogdon, Dodge
Stratus, 6.672, 197.13; 6. Greg Stanfield, GTO, 6.673, 207.30; 7. Warren
Johnson, GTO, 6.676, 207.56; 8. Mike Edwards, GTO, 6.676, 207.18; 9. Jeg
Coughlin, Cobalt, 6.677, 207.43; 10. Kenny Koretsky, Cobalt, 6.682,
207.34; 11. Tom Martino, GTO, 6.689, 207.91; 12. Jason Line, GTO, 6.690,
207.37; 13. Allen Johnson, Stratus, 6.691, 206.64; 14. Justin Humphreys,
GTO, 6.696, 206.86; 15. V. Gaines, Stratus, 6.696, 206.80; 16. Max
Naylor, Stratus, 6.696, 206.48. 

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The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series has enjoyed enormous success over the past couple of years with the dramatic points races of 2005 and 2006 and the emergence of charismatic stars like Melanie Troxel and J.R. Todd, so it could hardly be blamed if it closed ranks and played its hand conservatively.     

But far from staying pat, the NHRA POWERade Series has just navigated an exciting and certainly newsworthy offseason.     

From the announcement that Ashley Force was turning pro - a story that was deemed compelling enough to be featured prominently on the most viewed front page on the internet (Yahoo) - to the much-talked about andmuch-anticipated debut of the Countdown to the Championship playoff system, the NHRA POWERade Series dominated headlines during a typically dark period in auto racing. And these are merely two of the many storylines that merit a closer look this season.

The curtain will officially rise Feb. 8-11 as the $50 million NHRA POWERade Series embarks on its 2007 campaign with the season-opening CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.

The event, one of the most anticipated season-openers in POWERade Series history, will be televised by longtime NHRA partner ESPN2 with qualifying scheduled for 10 p.m. ET on Saturday and final eliminations scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday.

"This has been such a crazy couple of weeks with the announcement I was turning pro and all the media and being No. 1 on the Yahoo search," said Ashley Force, who has had some distinct highs (acareer-best 4.72-second pass in testing on Jan. 23) and lows (a fiery engine explosion Jan. 29 that she emerged safely from) in testing. "I'm just so glad that NHRA has this relationship with ESPN so that new and die-hard NHRA fans can follow my progress this season along with all of
the other great stories in the POWERade Series." 

As much anticipation as there is for Ashley's debut in general, the buzz is really focused on that first side-by-side race with her father, 14-time POWERade Series world champion and NHRA icon John Force, who will for the first time have the challenge of wearing the hat of competitor against his daughter.     

Up to now, John has shifted between the role of team owner, mentor and father in bringing along his 24-year old daughter and he was 100 percent the latter when he witnessed her Castrol GTX/Auto Club Ford Mustang erupt in flames during testing at Firebird International Raceway in Phoenix Jan. 29.     

"She had a nasty fire. She said, 'Dad, it exploded. I couldn't see anything.' She said, 'I triggered my bottles,' but it blew her windshield open. She got a little bit of smoke. She was gasping to breathe and I felt so bad. It was scary for me," said John, who then illustrated the genetic link between father and daughter. "But she was like, 'How long do you think it will take to fix it?' She was like an hour and a half later back in the staging lanes running again."

While it'd be easy to think Ashley has had the NHRA equivalent of a silver spoon, she has paid her dues with more than a half decade of experience in Super Comp and Top Alcohol dragsters leading up to her pro debut this season and none other than four-time world champion Tony Schumacher, who famously snatched the POWERade Top Fuel world championship away from Doug Kalitta on the final run of the 2006 season,said as much.

"She, in my opinion, probably paid more dues than most of the people out there that have had a chance to drive a fuel car," said Schumacher, who's seeking an NHRA record fourth straight POWERade TopFuel world championship this season. "She's been in Super Comp and Alcohol for years and driven Funny Cars for a few years testing and testing. That's pretty cool. Who has really gone through that much? So by the time it's time for her (to make her pro debut ) in Pomona, to step off the clutch, whoever is on the other side better respect the fact that she may give them a whoopin'."     

Joining Ashley in the crowded and incredibly competitive Funny Car class is six-time POWERade world champion Kenny Bernstein, who at theage of 62 is coming out of retirement. When you consider the four Funny Cars of John Force Racing (John, Ashley, Eric Medlen and Robert Hight), the three in the Don Schumacher stable (Ron Capps, Jack Beckman and GaryScelzi), the two Pedregons (Cruz and Tony), the two CSK cars (DelWorsham and Jeff Arend) and Don "Snake" Prudhomme's Skoal entry driven by Tommy Johnson Jr., it's fair to say this will be as cutthroat as it gets when summer rolls around and there's 11-12 or more cars fighting for the top eight spots in the Countdown.

The Countdown, in its simplest form, breaks the season down into three distinct tiers: a 17-race "regular season" that reduces the field of contending drivers to 8, a 4-race "first-round playoff" that reduces the field of contending drivers to 4, and finally a 2-race "championship" that identifies the 2007 POWERade Series world champions.     

So as races 15, 16, and 17 approach, the game of musical chairs around the eighth spot in the standings will become awfully intense.     

Once the eight contenders are set after the 17th event, the top eight drivers will have their points reset with the first place driver being rewarded in the form of a 70-point - or nearly four-round -advantage over the eighth-place driver. The top driver will be given 2,070 points and the other seven drivers will receive 10 fewer points with eighth-place receiving 2,000.     

The same game of musical chairs will begin again as these top eight drivers in each class compete in four full-field races - events 18-21 on the POWERade Series schedule - with only the top four drivers after this four-race "playoff" advancing to the championship round.

These top four drivers will again have their points reset - 3,030 to first, 3,020 to second, 3,010 to third and 3,000 to fourth - and they'll compete against full fields in Las Vegas and Pomona on back to back weekends in late October/early November to determine the 2007 POWERade Series world champions.     

The favorite in Top Fuel would have to be Tony Schumacher, but Brandon Bernstein, 2006 Auto Club Road to the Future winner J.R. Todd, Melanie Troxel and newcomer to the class Whit Bazemore will certainly have something to say about that.

In Pro Stock, it'd be hard to bet against either of the Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GTOs driven by three-time POWERade Series world champion Greg Anderson and 2006 POWERade Series world champion Jason Line.  A number of Pro Stock drivers have shown flashes the past couple of years, including Kurt Johnson and Dave Connolly, but none has shown the consistency needed to overtake Anderson or Line.      

SCHEDULE: Professional qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2 p.m. on Feb. 8 and Feb. 9, and Noon and 3 p.m. on Feb. 10. Pre-race ceremonies will begin at 10 a.m. on Feb. 11, followed by the first round of professional eliminations at 11 a.m.