Gary Scelzi gave his top-fuel dragster rivals in today's Big Bud Shootout and Sunday's Winston Finals something to shoot at Friday. He set Pomona Raceway track records of 4.548 seconds elapsed time and 323.85 mph in the second round of time trials to establish Sunday's 16-car field.
The Fresno driver is defending champion in the Big Bud Shootout and his performance Friday clinched his second consecutive National Hot Rod Assn. championship for Alan Johnson's Santa Maria team.
"I don't think we're going to get bumped," said an elated Scelzi, who joined the Johnson family team last year as a replacement for the late Blaine Johnson, who was killed during the 1996 season.
The run was slightly shy of Scelzi's national records of 4.525 and 326.44 set last month in Ennis, Texas.
"We've been working on a cold-weather setup and, obviously, it worked," Scelzi said. "Someone might go a little faster tomorrow, but we're happy with what we accomplished today."
Scelzi defeated Larry Dixon in last year's Big Bud Shootout finals, and they will meet in today's first round. Dixon has still failed to qualify for Sunday after two aborted runs.
Other pairings for the noon Shootout are Joe Amato vs. Doug Kalitta, Cory McClenathan vs. Kenny Bernstein and Mike Dunn vs. Eddie Hill.
Today's winner will receive $100,000 and if the winner can repeat Sunday, he will collect an additional $50,000.
The Pedregon brothers dominated funny car qualifying, with Cruz first, Tony fifth and Frank eighth. Cruz, the 1992 NHRA champion, ran 4.947 seconds ET in Joe Gibbs' Interstate Pontiac to take the provisional pole. It was retribution of sorts for the Moorpark veteran, who failed to qualify in the Winternationals on the same track last February.
Since then, however, Cruz has qualified No. 1 at 11 events and won four times.
"The ideal way for us to finish the season would be for two Pedregons to meet in the finals," he said. "Of course, I'd like to be one of them." Surprisingly, although Tony and Frank have each won two events, and Cruz four, they have not met in a final round this year.
Last year, at Houston, Tony defeated Cruz in the only side-by-side final round involving brothers.
"Actually, it was a relief to put the car in the show," Cruz said. "The memory of not making the show here last February is something that's been on our mind."
Ron Capps' slim hopes of catching seven-time champion John Force for the funny car championship took a turn for the worse when his Camaro failed to make the 16-car field. When his engine went sour, he could pedal home in only 7.185 seconds, good for the 17th position.
He will get two more chances today to qualify.
Force is fourth at 5.017.
Track records continued to fall in the pro stock motorcycle class as Angelle Seeling broke her day-old ET mark with a run of 7.268 seconds on her '93 Suzuki. On Thursday she had an ET of 7.300.
Matt Hines, who has already clinched the NHRA championship, broke his year-old speed record, running 189.27 mph on a '94 Suzuki. The old mark, 186.75, was set last year.
In the new pro stock truck class, John Lingenfelter set a national record of 178.28 mph with a track record ET of 7.617 in a Chevrolet S-10.
NHRA Winston Finals
* Where: Pomona Raceway, L.A. County Fairgrounds, Pomona.
* Schedule: Today--qualifying, time trials, 8 a.m.; professional qualifying, 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.; Big Bud Shootout, noon. Sunday--final eliminations, 10:30 a.m.
* TV: Today--TNN, Nashville Network, 4 p.m. Sunday--TNN, Nashville Network, 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.
* Tickets: General admission adult--$41 today, $46 Sunday. Junior (ages 6-15)--$10. Reserved adult--$53 today, $60 Sunday. Junior--$22 today, $24 Sunday. Under 5--$12 today, $14 Sunday.