by Rob Geiger “Hot Rod” Fuller beat Melanie Troxel in a repeat of last year’s Top Fuel final and ran his winning streak at Firebird Int’l Raceway to 15 straight rounds. Tony Pedregon and Kurt Johnson also scored big wins at the 23rd annual Checker Schuck’s Kragen NHRA Nationals presented by Castrol, the second of 23 races in the $50 million POWERade Drag Racing Series.
Former Funny Car world champion Pedregon set a national elapsed time record en route to his 33rd victory to highlight a record-setting weekend. Pedregon’s opening-round pass of 4.701 backed up his 4.659 qualifying run, making it an official NHRA record, which is worth 20 bonus points in the POWERade standings. He then took out Robert Hight in the final to add the race trophy to his collection. Johnson took out reigning Pro Stock world champ Jason Line on a holeshot.
Including his seven-round Super Gas win here in 2004, last year’s Top Fuel triumph, and this year’s nearly identical Top Fuel win over Troxel, Fuller has now won 15 consecutive rounds at this facility. This victory will likely be the one he remembers the most as his 4.490-second, 327.19-mph march to the finish line solidified his place at the top of the standings, the first time he’s reached that position in his brief Professional career. Troxel was game in her Vietnam Veterans/POW-MIA rail, running a 4.536 at 325.61 mph, but she ultimately fell to 2-10 in final-round appearances.
“I got to the final and we’re in the same lane as last year against Melanie again, and I was thinking how much I love
Arizona,” Fuller said. “Then I thought about the streak, and you know streaks are gonna end at some point. But in the end, it all worked out for us. I feel really blessed and lucky, especially when they told me we were in the points lead. I’ve never had that before.
“A lot of people don’t know, but the Valvoline deal was just for the first two races, so we’re going into
Gainesville in the points lead with no primary sponsor. We knew this in the off-season, and for a while I didn’t even know if I’d be racing at all to be honest. But David [Powers, team owner] said he’s committed to running the whole year.
“I felt like we were one of the best cars in the second half of the season last year, but my crew chief [Lee Beard] and my guys were shifted over to the other car, and I started over with Rob Flynn and a new group of crew guys, but they all stepped up big time. If they sold stock in crew chiefs, I’d buy Rob Flynn stock right now. He makes that Canadian horsepower.”
After qualifying No. 2, Fuller had a reliably quick mount on race day as his Valvoline/David Powers Homes dragster reeled off a 4.46, a 4.47, a 4.52, and a 4.49 in the final. Troxel’s best pass of the day was a fantastic pedaling job in the quarterfinals that gave her a 6.71 to 6.81 win over Brandon Bernstein.
After going winless since last June when he won
in Madison, 2003 POWERade world champ Pedregon came to life this weekend, running a world record number and taking the victory in his Q Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo.The final round ended up looking easy as Hight’s Auto Club Ford Mustang got out of shape very early and forced him to give up. Pedregon was long gone by then, zooming to a 4.803 at 326.32 mph to light the bulbs.
“This weekend was just a little reminder that when conditions are good and with the way they prepare the tracks these days that just about any place can hold a national record,” said Pedregon, who became the first Funny Car driver to set a national record at FIR.
“We did a lot over the winter to step up our power. We saw so many 4.60s last year that we knew we needed to do something, and Dickie [Venables, crew chief] and the guys worked so hard to get us to this point. Now we’re right there within a hundredth or two of the quickest car in the class.
“Anytime you can qualify well, set a national record, and win the race with the two quickest cars in the class going at it in the final, I’d say it’s a great weekend. The fans sure got their money’s worth.”
Pedregon’s memorable weekend helped him move up to second place, just six points behind Hight, who took over the top spot from Pomona winner Gary Scelzi with his second straight runner-up finish.
Racing in his 13th year as a Professional, Brut Revolution racer Ron Capps lost on a red-light start for the first time in his semifinal loss to Hight. Capps has competed in 496 elimination races. “This one’s going to leave a mark,” he said.
Johnson can credit his exceptional starting-line prowess for this win, the 36th of his illustrious Pro Stock career. After defeating Jeg Coughlin and Richie Stevens, who both had problems early, Johnson beat semifinal foe Erica Enders and reigning world champ Line on big holeshots.The final-round reaction time was the one that mattered most; Johnson’s .016-second light against Line’s .051 set his ACDelco Chevrolet Cobalt off to a 6.694-second win at 206.67 mph. Line’s Summit Racing Pontiac GTO was quicker with a 6.676 at 207.85 mph, but he came up one-hundredth of a second short.
“It’s a relief,” Johnson said. “If nothing happens for the rest of the year, I can say I won
Phoenix and remember I enjoyed a cold beer afterwards. Sometimes you work just as hard as always, but you don’t get the wins. It’s a tough class.
“We were saluting Roy Johnson today. He had a heart attack yesterday, and his son Allen said he flat-lined a couple of times. Racing just doesn’t matter as much when stuff like that happens. I mean, that’s Allen’s dad. Plus he’s a Johnson, so I’m sure we’re related somehow. I’m so glad he’s doing better. This one’s for him.”
Johnson’s win catapulted him to third in the POWERade points. Line moved around teammate Greg Anderson to take the top position by one point.