Pomona Day 4: The Race
By Phil R. Elliott
So, why would someone who had full media credentials
to the first national event on the POWERade NHRA tour, after spending
three days full of mind-numbing performances in some of the greatest
weather conditions in Winternationals history, with the excitement and
anticipation of even better performances and superb racing to boot, miss
the actual race?
Maybe a little bit of over saturation. Maybe too much
sun and too little sleep. Maybe the desire to spend some time with my
sister, brother-in-law, and mom.
Right or wrong, that is the choice I made. I want to
thank NHRA and the POWERade press crew, especially Anthony Vestal and
Robert Viscara, for the great hospitality. I hope to do it again real
soon, as early as the Phoenix event in two weeks.
It was also great to see so many old friends and make
new ones in the pressroom, on the starting line, in the pits, and
throughout the weekend.
Although I didn't attend, I'm gonna wrap up my
coverage with a few observations of the weekend.
First, other than a couple of odd comments, I think
Mike Dunn's television color work on the ESPN coverage was the best
these shows have had for years. I saw him Wednesday night near
credential check-in and wished him well on the new gig. Although I was
sorry to see him out of a ride, I was sure he'd do a super job of
commentating. I was right. He has the right mix of driver and internal
engine knowledge to give me the perspective I want and the
self-assuredness to give the whole picture believability.
After watching and feeling quite intimate with these
cars all race long, I was shocked at the number of upsets in the round
one of the Pros. Wow, Andrew Cowin and Ron Krisher, #1Qs in TF and PS,
respectively, down. (Is this the time to give Tim Freeman another call,
Ron?). And Tony Schumacher, Whit Bazemore, Tony Pedregon, Jerry Toliver,
Dean Skuza, Darrell Alderman, and Mark Osborne, too? Amazing.
But, it's a long season, right? Right.
I'm pretty impressed with Clay Millican and the
Werner Enterprises fueler. Usually an IHRA standout, the car appears to
be on the verge of making the fulltime crossover. The semi-finals looked
easy, the car barely puts a tire wrong, and giant trucking outfit from
Omaha should be proud of the accomplishment. I mentioned before that
Mike Kloeber calls the shots on this one.
I think that the return of Cory Mac should be
considered a triumphant one. The Henkelman-Baca team looked pretty sharp
every time I went by.
So too, the Scott Weis RaceGirl entry qualified and
went a couple rounds. This bunch was super a few years ago in IHRA AFC
competition and I'm glad to see them doing so well. I don't know how
big the sponsorship is or if the "Weis Guys" will make the
And to have the beer war go down to the final round,
the same two drivers/teams that finished 2001 in the top two spots doing
the same at Race 1 of 2002, was pretty special. Dick LaHaie and the Don
Prudhomme/Miller Lite team worked hard to help Larry Dixon Jr. win the
final. So did Kenny Bernstein, Tim Richards, and the Budweiser folk.
There were engine swaps, nearly missed time cut-offs, tire smoke, blown
engines, and teamwork. Yes, the blue car beat the red one this time, but
there'll be plenty more.
I feel bad for Jerry Toliver losing in round one. But
he had more super runs in this one event than in all of 2002 and he
should be back on the full trail with no more problems. And he lost the
closest race of the entire eliminator to another car/team that had a
similar off-pace season last year, Jim Dunn and Al Hoffman. How can you
feel bad about a 4.892/305 to 4.896/313 loss? Both these teams will be a
factor in 2002.
I'm not sure why, but Del Worsham snuck quietly into
the FC final, as quietly that is as a funny car can be. After qualifying
6th (4.817/318) outside of the heavily headlined competition,
the Checker-Shucks-Kragen Firebird hit 4.838/319, a shut-off 4.894/273,
and 4.847/316 before blowing the tires off in the final. Dad Chuck
Worsham and Rob Flynn deserve a great deal of respect for doing an
end-around everyone to even get to the final. And, the team car, now
with Johnny Gray at the controls, had similar numbers and reached the
semis. Quite an accomplishment in my book.
Of course, John Force should have won. But like a
dozen times during 2001, where he went all the way through races in
spite of mechanical woes and mistakes, he was ripe for the plucking in
all four rounds here. He admitted as much during every interview. TJ had
him covered in round one before spinning tires stopped his progress.
Scotty did the same exact thing in the second. Ron Capps ran away from
him in the semis only to have the engine go boom. And Del looked like a
sure thing for sixty feet, and even later when Force's Mustang went
every which way including loose.
One thing is certain. John Force is going to keep at
this funny car thing until he gets it right.
Here's another observation about nitro mania. After
a scare of light fields over the past few seasons for both classes, it
seems things are well once again. In years past, both classes at Pomona
were heavy with SoCal entries. Not so this year. For the most part, the
teams here are committed to the full POWERade tour.
So, with Krisher out in PS R1, he had to rely on Tom
Hammonds who ran his power to good effect. After qualifying 4th,
the ex-NBA star ran extremely well throughout the event to reach the
I'm very impressed that Pro Stockers improved on a
day that was much warmer than in qualifying. WJ's 6.817/202.82 was
one, his son Kurt was another who picked up to a 6.827/202.94, and Jim
Yates' 6.803/202.79 was another, all coming in R1. Yates' ET was not
only a track record, but just .004 away from that "70" I hoped
for. After the round, the Johnsons switched engines in Warren's Grand
Am, a Herculean task they performed in 23 minutes. The engine showed
good power but the team must have missed slightly on the clutch. WJ fell
off slightly in ET but picked up to a whopping 203.12 for the mph track
In the final, Yates had another fine 6.812/202.61 and
should have won the race he dominated. But that wouldn't be the sport
we love, would it?
I for one am excited about George Marnell's win. He
tested as much or more than anyone else all winter, but more than that,
he outdrove everyone in the place. He came from #16Q, blasted Krisher in
R1 (RTs .428 to .474), duplicated Mike Edwards in R2 (RTs .479 to .481),
sawed off Hammonds in the semis (RTs .438 to .480) and literally drubbed
Yates in the final (RTs .417 to .485). Marnell's 6.880 in that final
looked ridiculous compared to his opponent's 6.812, until one does the
math. The numbers must be taken out to the fourth digit a .0009 true
win. Imagine that, George was all smiles and without many words to say.
The shock may wear off within a week or two.
Congrats to my old Division Six buds Mark Hentges
in TAD, Pat Austin and Bucky Austin in TAFC, Mike Ferderer in SC, and
all the other Sportsman winners.