After a season of exciting, nail-biting Funny Car racing, Cruz Pedregon has emerged as this year’s winner. This is the second time he has won the NHRA Funny Car championship and it is the first time in 16 years that he has been able to enjoy such a victory. His championship victory was sealed on Sunday when he took home the Southern Californian Auto Club NHRA Finals trophy.
It has been a long and eventful season for Pedregon. First he won his first-round meeting with Jerry Toliver. Things then went on to look even better for him when Tim Wilkerson, the driver who’d been leading all season long, fouled against John Force. Another top competitor, Robert Hight, lost to Tony Pedregon. Both losses meant that the drivers were now out the running for the title and so Cruz’s title hopes were secure. Pedregon then went on to win his third straight event in his Advance Auto Parts Toyota Solara. His victory over Ron Capps and other competitors in the NHRa Playoffs gave him his 26th career win. It was also the second time that he’d managed to win on his home track. Just moments after he found out that his brother had beaten the last competitor to pose a threat to his overall victory, Cruz commented: “I’m stunned. It’s awesome Tony got that win right there because I’m standing here thinking of my dad (Frank) and that I hope he’s proud of his sons. I was eighteen when he died and Tony was sixteen and now we each have two world championships. We’ve come a long way for a couple of Hispanic kids from Chino.”
Meanwhile Eddie Krawiece, who was competing in Pro Stock Motorcycle, took home his first POWERade Series crown. Amazingly enough he managed to do so without winning one race during the season. He is now one of only two drivers in the history of the NHRA to win a season title without earning an actual individual race victory, showing just how advantageous consistent good placements can be in the long-run when it comes to competing in a championship series.
When drag racing became more and more popular in the early 1950s and 60s, the National Hot Rod Association‘s home track was Pomona Raceway in California. The track was built as a quarter-mile and the cars’ speeds were only nearing 200 mph so the logistics worked. But that was then, and this is now. Today cars reach speeds in excess of 325 mph, and officials now fear that the track hasn’t changed enough to accommodate these high speeds.
This fact was brought into sharp relief recently when the life of Scott Kalitta, a Palmetto Funny Car driver, was brought to a catastrophic end when his car launched into the barrier at the end of a run last month in New Jersey, causing the car to explode with the driver still trapped inside. There were likely more factors involved in the crash than simply the lack of space and increase in speed, but the tragic event was a stark reminder that something needed to be done about the problem. The accident took place in Englishtown on a track that was built in 1965 – one of many tracks that, like Pomona Raceway, have run out of space to expand the runoff area at the end of the quarter-mile in case of emergencies such as these. Since the runoffs cannot be expanded, something else needs to be done to ensure that these tracks continue to remain relatively safe places to participate in motor sports. With this in mind, the NHRA has made the decision to shorten the races for Top Fuel and Funny Cars to just 1000 feet instead of the full 1 320-foot quarter-mile that has been the standard up until now. Both events see the fastest cars on the track and the most risks taken, and shortening the track will no doubt see a lot of cars slowing down in order to stay on the track.
Although the NHRA has said that this is only a temporary solution to the problem, a lot of people in the auto racing industry are up in arms about it. They feel that speed is the name of the game and a good driver will just suck it in and do their best. They also fear that the NHRA’s decision will become permanent. However, the decision made by the NHRA is clearly not about slowing the races down – it’s about the long-term safety of the drivers involved in these races. As long as there is insufficient space for a car hurtling down a run at 325 mph to slow down safely, the risk of more accidents like Scott Kalitta’s is just too great. Tracks must be altered, races must be shortened or technology must improve – we will no doubt see interesting developments in all three of these facets of racing in the near future.
The NHRA recently released the details for the 2009 Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. But it isn’t the 24 different events that have everyone talking – it’s the more than $1.3 million purse! The figure is higher than ever before and even beats estimates of what it might have risen to, so fans are excited and drivers are setting their minds on trying to place in next years fantastic NHRA drag racing series.
So exactly how is all that money going to be divided up? There are, after all, 24 different races on the calendar. Well, it starts with the Top Fuel and Funny Car national events which each have a purse of $50 000 (about 25% more than this year). The next biggest winners will be the Pro Stock drivers who stand to take $25 000 home, followed by Pro Stock Motorcyclists who could win $10 000. However even these figures are completely dwarfed by the most prestigious drag racing event in the world – the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. The year 2009 will see that 55th running of this massive race and winners of the top two nitro classes will each walk away with a check for a cool $100 000. The event’s Pro Stock winner will take $50 000, while the Pro Stock Motorcycle winner will be able to look forward to spending $20 000. Increases in prize money will also be made for semifinalists, second-round finishers and runner-ups in a number of the different races. The total purse increase for the Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle classes is $1 353 700. For many drivers this is the stuff dreams are made of.
The 2009 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series schedule takes place in the following order: NHRA Winternationals (Pomona), Checker Schuck’s Kragen NHRA Nationals (Phoenix), ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals (Gainesville), O’Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals (Houston), SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals (Las Vagas), Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals (Atlanta), Midwest Nationals (Madison), O’Reilly NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals (Bristol), O’Reilly NHRA Summer Nationals (Topeka), NHRA Route 66 Nationals (Chicago), NHRA SuperNationals (Englishtown), Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals (Norwalk), NHRA Winternationals (Pomona), Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals (Denver), Schuck’s Auto Supply NHRA Nationals (Seattle), Fram Autolite NHRA Nationals (Sonoma), Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals (Brainerd), Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals (Reading), Mac Tools U.S. Nationals (Indianapolis), NHRA Nationals (Concord), O’Reilly Super Start Batteries NHRA Fall Nationals (Dallas), O’Reilly NHRA Mid-South Nationals (Memphis), Virginia NHRA Nationals (Richmond), ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals (Las Vegas), Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals (Pomona). The races will take place between Feb 5 and November 15, so racing fans have a whole lot of great racing to look forward to.
Bandimere Speedway looks set for a fantastic weekend as it gets ready to host the 29th Annual Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals. The race has the longest-running NHRA sponsorship and is always a massive success. So as fans prepare to make their way to Morrison, Colorado, between July 11-13, event organizers are doing their utmost to ensure that the masses get what they pay for.
In 2007 Allen Johnson took the Pro Stock trophy while Jack Beckman took the Funny Car class title. Both drivers will be back in 2008 to defend their position at the head of the pack, but that isn’t going to be easy. A massive lineup of racers has already signed up for the event and of course many of them have already earned a reputation elsewhere. A race with this sort of legacy certainly doesn’t need to scrounge around for good drivers. The Mopar Mile-High Nationals has long been Mopar’s premier event – something no doubt made possible by the long and healthy partnership enjoyed by Bandimere Speedway and NHRA. Nevertheless the walk to fame hasn’t been too easy and this year will see two legendary people returning to the track after years of building the Mopar brand and creating its place in auto racing history – Don Garlits and Judy Lilly. Don Garlits, also known as “Big Daddy”, will be playing the role of Grand Marshal during the event, while Judy Lilly, also affectionately called “Miss Mighty Mopar”, will act as an Honorary Starter. Both are veteran drag racers with Garlits having been proclaimed the greatest drag racer of all time by the NHRA in 2001. Lilly is seen as being one of the forerunners of female involvement in the sport of drag racing and her role on the big weekend will be just as well deserved.
But why so much fuss over this year’s race? The year 2008 marks the 50th year that Mopar has been collaborating with Bandimere Speedway. Speaking for Bandimere Speedway, John Bandimere Jr. noted that they are thankful for the relationship enjoyed by the two entities over the past fifty years and that they were “proud to be the Home Track for Team Mopar”. The action will start with the Mopar Big Block party on July 10 from 18:30 on the streets of Golden, Colorado.
Ashley Force was born on 29 November 1982 – the daughter of John and Laurie Force. John Force has been National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) champion fourteen times, so it came as no surprise that Ashley showed an interest in auto racing at an early age. After high school, Ashley attended California State University-Fullerton graduating with a B.A. in communications, specializing in television and video. In 2007 Ashley Force was voted by an AOL Sport Poll as the Hottest Athlete, chosen over Tom Brady and Danica Patrick.
Ashley finished 4th in driver points in 2004 after winning three of the final five races of the season as a Top Alcohol division rookie. One of her victories was the 50th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals held at Indianapolis. Ashley and her father John made NHRA history as the first ever father-daughter winners at the season finale race of the Automobile Club of Southern California held at Pomona.
In 2007 Ashley progressed to driving a Castrol-sponsored Mustang in the professional Funny Car division for John Force Racing. Her first race in this division found Ashley up against, and losing to, her brother-in-law, Robert Hight. In April 2007 Ashley and John Force, as father and daughter, again made NHRA history – this time for competing against each other in Atlanta. Ashley won the race with a top speed of 317.05 miles per hour in a time of 4.779 seconds. She went through to the semifinals which ended in a tie, recorded as the highest ever Funny Car event finish by a female.
Ashley has continued with her love for movies and television, thereby putting her B.A. degree to good use. She is featured on “Driving Force“, an A&E reality show focusing on her father, John Force and his drag racing daughters – Ashley, Courtney, Brittany and Adria (Ashley’s half-sister). “Driving Force” follows the day-to-day life of John while he balances his business with family responsibilities.
Ashley’s mother, Laurie, relinquished her role of managing contracts for John Force Racing so that she could focus on raising her children. John Force, having established a successful business, has resolved to devote more time to his daughters, and fully supports their interest in racing.
Auto racing fans are assured of interesting times ahead as they track the progress of the Force family. Ashley Force has certainly shown that she has what it takes to succeed in her chosen career.