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By Rob Geiger: Brandon Bernstein opened the 2007 POWERade Drag Racing Series season with an impressive run down Auto Club Raceway at
Pomona, tripping the timers in his Budweiser Top Fuel dragster with a 4.494-second pass at 331.61 mph. 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 as the 47th annual CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals began Thursday under hazy skies.

Rookie Funny Car pilot Ashley Force also made news in her debut, running a steady 4.810 at 281.19 mph to qualify sixth overall, well ahead of her 14-time world champ father, John Force. Whit Bazemore, who crossed over from Funny Car to Top Fuel this year, posted a 4.533 to grab seventh place, and returning legend Kenny Bernstein will have to wait another day to make the Funny Car field after shutting off very early.

 
Brandon Bernstein

Bernstein led a trio of Top Fuel drivers in the 4.4-second range. Aside from the Bud driver’s smooth pass, championship runner-up Doug Kalitta went 4.495 at 323.50 mph in his Mac Tools rail and “Hot Rod” Fuller 4.497 at 329.34 mph in the Valvoline/David Powers Homes dragster. “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.

“I’ve been doing my best to keep Dad positive, keep his spirits up. It had a tough run in testing, and that time out, the car just backfired and died. They’ll be fine. With that Monster team being based out here, I saw a lot of them all off-season, and I can tell you they’re a great group.”

Four-time NHRA world champion Tony Schumacher, winner of the last three POWERade world titles, just missed the 4.4-second range with a 4.502 at 324.20 mph, placing his U.S. Army dragster fourth.

 
Robert Hight

All eyes may have been on Ashley Force, but her brother-in-law and John Force Racing teammate, Hight, earned the spotlight in his Auto Club Ford Mustang. The quietest of the four Team Force racers, Hight let his car do the talking with a class-leading 4.693 at 326.79 mph. “It’s been a long winter with a lot of changes made to our car,” Hight said. “We tested a few weeks ago and really didn’t find what we wanted, so Jimmy [Prock, crew chief] just glued himself in front of the computer and figured out what to do. We have a new clutch and a new fuel system in there, and whatever he did obviously worked out perfectly. It’s a credit to his tuning ability that we’re No. 1.

“It’s very exciting to see Ashley out here running with us. 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’s watching us all grow.”

Ashley Force ended up sixth on the grid with a 4.810 at 281.19 mph in her Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, eight spots better than Dad. Heavyweights Gary Scelzi (4.728), Ron Capps (4.741), and Tommy Johnson Jr. (4.779) rounded out the top four behind Hight.

Returning legend Kenny Bernstein is outside the field after aborting his first attempt.

 
Greg Anderson

It surprised no one to see
Anderson leading Pro Stock, except perhaps Anderson himself, who loves to downplay the performance of his Summit Racing Pontiac GTO. He debuted his own DRCE3 engine at this event after publicly questioning the engine throughout the off-season and posted a 6.647 at 208.33 mph. “We look okay,”
Anderson said. “We honestly didn’t finish these motors and make 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. 

“We’re in the pack at least. The DRCE2 was something we used for 10 to 12 years, and there was still room for improvement, but the way we run these things now at such high rpm, I think the DRCE3 will be better. We dynoed the old and the new motors, and they were pretty similar. We just made the call to use the DRCE3.”

The POWERade world champion from 2003 to 2005,
Anderson is a five-time winner at this racetrack, including at both of last year’s races.

Dave Connolly was a hundredth of a second back in the No. 2 slot with a 6.656 at 207.94 in the Torco Race Fuels Cobalt.

Rookie Rodger Brogdon, who moved up from Comp, was a big surprise in fifth place after a 6.672 at just 197.13 mph.

“I must have had 30 people tell me to make sure I got my chutes out on time because the track is so short,” Brogdon said. “I was so nervous about it I think I threw them at 900 feet, so I’m really surprised we ran what we did. It was a cool ride either way.”

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