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Gone Racin' to the 40th Auto Club NHRA Finals - 11/04

Gone Racin' to the 40th Auto Club NHRA Finals - 11/04


Gone Racin' to the 40th Auto Club NHRA Finals
The 40th Annual Auto Club of Southern California/NHRA Finals were held on November 11th through the 14th, 2004, at the Pomona Raceway Dragstrip, in Pomona, CA. With a heavy mist that could hardly be called rain and overcast and cool weather on Thursday, it was apparent that the drivers were not going to tempt fate and ran all out, creating some explosive runs in all divisions. Slightly warmer and sunny weather brought out the crowds in droves on Friday, and the times that the cars ran only improved. Saturday and Sunday brought perfect conditions and the stands were packed with over 100 thousand spectators for the event. Oildowns and crashes were minimal, and the famed Safety Safari handled one problem after another without any stress. The only irritation came with a deteriorating right side track that did not improve until the final few races. Lane choice was everything, and those stuck in the right side lane did everything they could think of to equalize the situation, all to no avail. Many times the crews went out to work on the course conditions, with little to show for their hard efforts. It might have been a mental problem for the racers as much as a physical defect in the course.
The crowds were having far too much fun at this sun soaked event, with the towering San Gabriel Mountains forming an impressive sight. Pomona Raceway is situated in a bowl shaped depression with a series of hills rising to the West and South. The track itself slopes slightly to the South and thus the cars are racing downhill with winds that come out of the mountains adding a gentle push. With cool air and a warm track, and with nothing for the racers to hold back, as this was the last race of the season, the times were fast. After each stage, the winning cars have 90 minutes to tear their cars apart and perform whatever repairs are necessary, as other classes are competing. But as the day wore on, there were fewer and fewer contestants in this drag racing format of sudden death. The slack was taken up by special events, which have become fan favorites. The skydiver came down extremely fast forcing a gasp from the crowd. The Cacklefest brought the fans to their feet, as about 20 vintage and nostalgic cars from the past were lined up on the return road and their engines lit up with a roar that only the old timers could remember. Honor guards, national anthems and the staccato beat of the announcers, including Bob Frey and Dave McClelland, kept the audience enthralled with expectation. On Saturday night, as qualifying was ending for the day, Rob Gieger, Larry and Ali Dixon organized an auction for memorabilia donated by the drag racing community, to benefit the family of Darrell Russell. What had been expected to be a small event raised more than $270,000 for the Darrell Russell Memorial Fund. The tragic passing of Darrell Russell at the beginning of his great promise as a Top Fuel driver, was remembered by friends and fans, and the knowledge that drag racers will always rally together to take care of their own.
In Pro Stock Bike, Angelle Savoie put aside the recent disappointments of losing her old sponsor and the loss of her status as champion, to join the Army Team and stage a late season return to the racing form that her fans have been looking for. From her number 4 qualifying position, she stormed through a crowded PS Bike division to force a final with her Army Teammate and friend, Antron Brown, and beat him in the Finals with a resounding 7.03 run. In Pro Stock, the story was all Greg Anderson, and when it wasn't his turn to be in the spotlight, he could proudly point to his teammate, Jason Line, as the second best Pro Stocker in the country. From positions 1 and 2, these predictably and coolly efficient racers ran the table and discarded one opponent after another, finally facing each other in the finals. As Anderson has done so effectively all season, he staged and overpowered his younger teammate with a powerful 6.72 E.T., at 205.35mph. This was to be Greg Anderson's signature season, one in which he mowed down the legendary John Force's single season record for victories.
John Force stormed back from an off year in 2003 to recapture yet another championship in Funny Car for the 2004 season. His daughter Ashley had just captured a "Wally" for her win in Top Alcohol, and John was not about to sit at the dinner table with a daughter who "had the hardware." From his number one qualifying position, Force moved through his ladder's position and beat his teammate, Eric Medlen, then disposed of former Top Fuel Champion Gary Scelzi, to set up a final showdown with long time nemesis, Del Worsham, who had shown amazing progress in past races with the Funny Car master. But Force wanted this race as much for family bragging rights with Ashley as he did in wanting to quash any thoughts that the younger guys could do as they please with him. Force thundered to a 4.73 E.T. at 320.28mph. If Force and Anderson were the powers in their divisions, then Tony Schumacher, leader of the Army Top Fuel Dragster Team was the 800-pound gorilla in Top Fuel this year. You have to respect the Army Team. It has been a long and hard road for this deserving group, but they patiently worked, year by year to improve their performance. With commanding skill and power, Schumacher and the Army Team went through this race as they did all year in Top Fuel, to win the Finals and the Championship. In the final race of the year, Tony beat an up and coming Morgan Lucas with a 4.55 E.T. at 313.07mph.
Contact Richard Parks, Gone Racin' at [email protected] or visit the Gone Racin' website at