2008 Auto Club NHRA Finals

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A truly international field of vehicles battled the ninety degree heat and the Santa Ana winds that fanned the many devastating wildfires that California and the Los Angeles area were suffering, including the one that sent large plumes of smoke into the heavens just a few miles from the end of the track. Racers were from Canada, Australia and the 2007 FIA Top Fuel Champion from Switzerland, Urs Erbacher who attracted much interest. The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series reached its climax in the Countdown to One during mid November with just one professional Champion crowned the remainder were up for grabs.

Run again over the one thousand foot distance Top Fuel Dragster was led in the final by Tony Schumacher who had already wrapped up the 2008 Championship at the ACDelco NHRA Las Vegas Nationals a couple of weeks earlier. Schumacher got into this field on his third try and held then bettered that number to hold pole with Low ET and Top Speed with a 3.827/315 ahead of Larry Dixon, 3.831/309, Hillary Will, 3.835/314 with Canadian Tim Boychuk down on sixteenth with a 3.925/305. Notable DNQs included Bob Vandergriff Jr. and Antron Brown.

First round winners included Rod Fuller over Steve Torrence, a searching for a new sponsor Doug Herbert over Morgan Lucas, Cory McClenathan beating Doug Kalitta. Urs Erbacher beat J.R. Todd and notched up top speed of the meet with a 316.67 mph until in the next pair Tony Schumacher won by a nose over Canadian Tim Boychuk with a 317.42 mph. Troy Buff surprisingly saw off Hillary Will whilst Larry Dixon overcame Clay Millican's try and Brandon Bernstein easily won over a troubled Dave Grubnic.

Despite a holeshot Brandon Bernstein's Budweiser King/Lucas Oil machine went into tyre smoke at 250 feet out and could only watch as Urs Erbacher stormed to another win with a 3.926/309. Doug Herbert slowed early with problems in the last run for long-time sponsor Snap-On-Tools allowing Larry Dixon an easy 3.868/314 win. Troy Buff in the Bill Miller/Okuma car hit instant tyre smoke as he left the line as Cory McClenathan took advantage winning with a 3.880/312. The final pairing in round two gave a great race with Rod Fuller getting some revenge for recent losses as he took out the new Champ Tony Schumacher in the US Army car by a nose with a 3.862/313 to a losing 3.853/315.

The semi finals produced another close result as Cory McClenathan in the Fram backed dragster tried in vain to catch a flying Larry Dixon, 3.855/309 win to a 3.874/309 lose. The dream weekend ended for Erbacher's Midland Oil machine as his holeshot 3.991/282 was outrun by Rod Fuller's 3.851/312 winner.

As if there was not enough fire and heat around Larry Dixon in the US Smokeless Tobacco Co. car added to it with a huge explosion nearing the end of the run against Rod Fuller's Caterpillar car. Fuller lost with a 3.839/310 as Dixon who left first fireballed with a winning 3.833/300, saying "You run out of ways to lose but today we won. My shirt was on fire - I felt it nose over but I hadn't won yet, so I kept on it. I used up everything it had. The way it blew up we left everything on track."

Once again run over the thousand feet the Funny Cars were led by Mike Neff in the Old Spice Mustang out of the John Force stable, his 4.079/305 led the pack with Melanie Troxel and Ashley Force in hot pursuit with 4.082/305 and 4.092/304 respectively. Those not in the frame included Tommy Johnson Jr. and Del Worsham.

Cruz Pedregon continued his drive toward the Championship with a defeat of Rockstar Energy Drink driver Jerry Toliver. Tim Wilkerson having outlasted most during this year squandered his Championship chances with a worse red light than John Force's giving the win to Force. "I thought I saw yellow" said a dismayed Wilkerson, driver of the Levi, Ray & Shoup Inc. car afterwards. Ashley Force beat Gary Densham's Racebricks entry. Mike Neff kept up his great numbers beating Jeff Arend in the DHL Toyota. Despite getting crossed up Melanie Troxel saw off an early 'chute deploying Jim Head. Bob Tasca III in the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang lost cylinders slowing and losing to Ron Capps. It all went up in smoke as Championship contender Robert Hight in the Auto Club of Southern California/Ford machine blazed the hides losing to Tony Pedregon and thus giving the POWERade Funny Car Championship to brother, Cruz Pedregon. The last pairing saw a retiring Gary Scelzi slow in the Mopar/Oakley Dodge giving the win to Jack Beckman.

It was a win by just half a car length for Jack Beckman as his 4.148/301 beat Melanie Troxel's Procare RX Charger, she failed to hold on to her lead losing with a 4.184/299 to start round two. Despite a head start Ashley Force in the Castrol GTX Mustang was run down, her 4.124/299 was beaten by Ron Capps' 4.114/300. Mike Neff managed to chase down Tony Pedregon's Q Horsepower car with a 4.112/293 to the losing 4.170/288. Cruz Pedregon notched up a good win by beating John Force's Castrol High Mileage with a 4.165/299 to a 4.209/282 lose to end the round.

The semis started with a stellar start from Ron Capps and coupled with the 4.116/301 it beat the chasing 4.112/303 from Jack Beckman's Valvoline/MTS machine. Cruz Pedregon was on a mission all weekend and it didn't stop here, his holeshot 4.162/301 easily beat the up in smoke 6.001/118 from the Old Spice car of Mike Neff.

Not content with the Championship Cruz Pedregon in the Advance Auto Parts '08 Solara left a somnolent Ron Capps on the startline a 0.058 light against a 0.109 told the story and with the holeshot came the event win as the 4.087/303 beat the hard chasing 4.078/304 from the NAPA Dodge Charger.

The POWERade Pro Stock Championship was almost locked up by Jeg Coughlin, all it needed was for him to qualify, a feat he did with a number thirteen at 6.678/206. Leading the throng was Greg Anderson with a 6.634/208 then teammate Jason Line on a 6.637/208 and in third was Kurt Johnson on a 6.643/207.

Round one winners were Greg Stanfield over V. Gaines, Warren Johnson over Ron Krisher, Jim Yates shook giving the win to Mike Edwards, Kurt Johnson beat a slowing a Vinnie Deceglie whilst Jason Line just beat Johnny Gray in a close bout. Losing by one thousandth was Jeg Coughlin as Allen Johnson took the win, Greg Anderson outran Richie Stevens and Rickie Jones beat a shaking Dave Connolly.

Round two opened with the Quarter-Max/RJ Race Cars Stratus of Rickie Jones cutting a good light but his 6.683/207 was just chased down and beaten by the 6.639/208 from Kurt Johnson. Jason Line managed another good light and stayed ahead of the GM Performance Parts/Pontiac owned and driven by Warren Johnson, the 6.645/207 beating the 6.679/208. A stunning 0.007 light from Mike Edwards coupled with a 6.654/208 put away the 6.674/207 from Allen Johnson's J&J Racing/Mopar Stratus and ending the round was Greg Anderson running down Greg Stanfield's 6.665/208 with a 6.625/208. A pair of excellent lights went in favour of Kurt Johnson as he passed Jason Line with a 6.638/208 to a 6.650/208 from Line's Summit Racing Equipment '08 GXP. Again it was a chase down that won the pairing as Greg Anderson came from behind with a 6.629/208 that just took out the 6.650/208 from Mike Edward's Young Life/Penhall '06 GTO.

The final was over on the startline as Kurt Johnson in the ACDelco/Chevrolet Cobalt red lit away his 6.627/209 allowing Greg Anderson to take the event win with a 6.615/209 from his Summit racing Equipment GXP. "I love racing Kurt" said Anderson afterwards, “we have some wonderful battles.” Of the dire financial pressures the US automotive manufacturers are under, Anderson said "We need all manufacturers in Pro Stock. I hope GM can continue in motorsport. It gets tougher each year but we'll try."

Despite the ninety degree heat some of the Pro Stock Motorcycles were able to deliver some six second passes and heading the field was defending Champion Matt Smith with a 6.962/188 that proved a track Low ET record. Following Smith came Eddie Krawiec still in the hunt for a new champ, a 6.987/189 and Hector Arana with a track record setting speed 6.996 at 191.29 mph.

The bikes are easy meat for red lights and there were three in the first round, Shawn Gann to Andrew Hines, Hector Arana to Michael Philips and Mike Berry to Matt Smith. Also going out were Junior Pippin losing to Chris Rivas, Steve Johnson to Chip Ellis. Angelle Sampey failed to start the bike and had to push it back off the start allowing Craig Treble through. In a female battle Karen Stoffer managed to catch and pass a quick leaving Angie McBride and finally Peggy Llewellyn fell to the superior power of Eddie Krawiec's V-Rod.

The red light next appeared in Karen Stoffer's lane, her Geico backed Suzuki going out to the 7.152/180 from Craig Treble. Michael Phillips Suzuki was the other cherry leaving Andrew Hines to win with a perfect .000 leave and a 7.031/187. A close run thing went in favour of Eddie Krawiec, his 7.042/186 beat the better 7.022/187 of Chip Ellis' Schumacher Electric machine, all down to a holeshot. A broken motor put paid to Matt Smith's Nitro Fish/Red Line Oil hopes of another Championship as he slowed to a 12.002/66 only to see Chris Rivas power to a 7.050/186 win.

Everyone kept their cool in the semis and it remained red light free however, the better leave by Craig Treble's Albrecht's Fast Track Suzuki was not enough to keep Chris Rivas from taking the win with a 7.049/184 to a losing 7.119/181. A team battle followed as the V-Rods of Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec faced off and despite a great leave Hines' Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines machine slowed to a 7.609/168 and allowed Eddie Krawiec on his Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines bike to take the win and wrap up the POWERade Championship with a 7.098/183.

Just one thousandth of a second separated the finalists on the start but it was the Drag Specialties/S7S/G2 '07 Buell of Chris Rivas that got the event win with a 6.929/191 as Eddie Krawiec chased to runner up with a 7.009/190.

The Lucas Oil Top Alcohol Dragster Championship went to Bill Reichert and he also runner upped at the event, his 5.632/210 from the Barr's Leaks/Rislone backed injected nitro burner lost cylinders and got a bit loose at the top end allowing Jim Whiteley to stay ahead and clinch the event win with a 5.317/267 from his J&A Services/Rator Ind. Car.

It was heartbreak for Top Alcohol Funny Car number one qualifier Steve Harker in his OMS Graphics.com Monte Carlo as a fuel line broke just before the start negating his chances, it left Mick Snyder free to motor to the event win with a 5.591/258 from Powersource Transportation '08 Mustang.

Two doorslammers faced off for the Competition Eliminator final and it was the '08 Cobalt of Dan Fletcher that produced the winning numbers, an 8.053/163 beat the 8.025/149 from Dave Connolly's '06 GTO.

Byron Worner came through from number twelve qualifier in Super Stock to face the number nineteen man, Frank Grossi in the final. It was Worner's '96 Camaro that delivered the numbers, 9.884/133 that beat the 9.280/143.

Lee Zane faced another Stock Eliminator Firebird in the final, that of Mike Johnson, but Johnson red lit and gave the win to Zane's machine, 13.516/70 to a 10.844/122 lose.

Two dragsters were in the Super Comp final and it was Anthony Castillo that took the trophy as opponent Robert Naber redlit, an 8.872/179 took the win to the fouled time of 8.885/167.

David Coapstick wheeled his '68 Camaro to a holeshot win in Super Gas with a 9.901/154 as opponent Val Torres tried in vain to catch up getting the runner up place with an identical 9.901 at 155 mph.

Text and photographs ©Roger Gorringe, Eurodragster.com

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