NASCAR & Auto Racing

Schumacher, Hight, Anderson score wins in NHRA Winternationals

POMONA, Calif. – Defending Top Fuel world champion Tony Schumacher raced to his 42nd career victory Sunday at the CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals.

Robert Hight and Greg Anderson also were winners in their respective categories at the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series event, the first of 24 races in 2008.

Schumacher, who with the victory moved to second on the Top Fuel all-time wins list behind legend Joe Amato (52 wins), covered the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona quarter-mile dragstrip in 4.499 seconds at 331.28 mph in his U.S. Army dragster, while final round opponent Cory McClenathan trailed in his FRAM dragster at 4.536 at 329.26.

"It has been an outstanding week," said Schumacher of his second Winternationals victory and sixth at the historic track. "The car was so consistent all weekend. It’s always great to win at Pomona and this is our second Winternationals win. I’ve loved being in California this week. I’m going home to 13-inches of snow tomorrow (in Chicago)."

Schumacher dedicated his trophy to fellow competitor Doug Herbert, whose two young sons were killed in a traffic accident in North Carolina two weeks ago.

"We’re all part of a family when something like that happens," Schumacher said. "I really wanted Doug to have this trophy. It was bittersweet having to race him in the second round. We were able to go on and get the win so this trophy is going to Doug."

Hight raced to his ninth career Funny Car victory and second at this race, powering his Auto Club Ford Mustang to a 4.861 at 284.39, just edging Cruz Pedregon at the finish line, who ran 4.879 at 322.50 in his Advance Auto Parts Chevy Impala SS.

Hight earned a first round victory when Ron Capps crossed the centerline, then raced to wins over veterans Gary Densham and John Force in the next two rounds, before defeating Pedregon in the final. He says days like this that feature a lineup of very tough opponents is going to be very common this season.

"It’s going to be a tough year," said Hight, who finished second in the POWERade Series standings in 2007. "There are an awful lot of really good cars out there. It’s going to be hard to win the championship this year, but it’s going to be exciting."

Defending Funny Car champion Tony Pedregon received burns to his right hand but was otherwise OK after taking a wild ride in a first round loss to John Force. The engine on Pedregon’s Q Horsepower Chevy Impala exploded in a spectacular fireball near the finish line, sending chunks of the carbon-fiber body that covers his chassis flying into the air.

"There was no warning," said Pedregon, who was transported to a local hospital for evaluation and was later released and returned to the track to cheer on brother Cruz.

"A lot of times when something happens to your car, like when you drop a cylinder, you feel it, and I would have reacted," Pedregon continued. "But it blew up, and I had instant flames, like a flame-thrower in my face and the scary part was I didn't know where I was. I hit the wall very hard and I feel very lucky. This is a little bit of a glitch for us, but this is why we have depth. We have good people and I feel fine - I feel great. I'm anxious to get back in the seat at Phoenix, and hey, if this is what it takes to get to the top, these are unfortunate things, but in terms of safety, to have a high-speed wreck like that, blow a motor and go into the wall a couple of times at close to 300 mph, I think it proves a lot about the safety features we've added to these cars."

Anderson claimed his 52nd career Pro Stock victory by outrunning rival Jeg Coughlin in the final round. Anderson, who is now tied for fifth place in all-time POWERade Series wins with Top Fuel legend Joe Amato, drove his Summit Racing Pontiac GXP to a track record time of 6.616 at 209.23 to hold off defending series champ Coughlin, who posted a 6.638 at 208.42 in his Chevy Cobalt.

"Anytime you match up against Jeg you better bring everything you’ve got," said Anderson, a three-time series champ who finished second to Coughlin in last year’s Countdown to the Championship. "I knew no matter what we ran, he’d be right there and he was. We’re going to try to win every race this year, but it’s going to be the toughest year in the class because these guys out here aren’t going to give an inch."

The NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series continues with the 24th annual Checker Schuck’s Kragen NHRA Nationals, Feb. 22-24 at Firebird International Raceway near Phoenix.

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