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Pedregon's Fast Run Has Funny Ending

He steps into knee-high mud after a blazing run during qualifying for the Winternationals.

February 13, 2005|Pete Thomas | Times Staff Writer

It was the second-quickest run in funny car history -- and it was one of the slowest deployments of the parachute drag-racing fans have ever seen.

As a result, Tony Pedregon, who covered the quarter of a mile in a track-record 4.681 seconds Saturday during qualifying for the 45th Winternationals at Pomona Raceway, earned the pole for today's elimination round.

But what kind of shape his car will be in remains unclear.

After crossing the finish line during the last pairing of the evening, and stealing the top spot from former teammate John Force, Pedregon tried to release his parachute to no avail. It finally deployed as his car was entering the sand pit at the end of the track. He plowed into the rain-soaked pit at high speed, causing the body to tear away from the chassis.

Pedregon, who in 2003 became the first driver other than Force to win the world championship since 1992, climbed out of the chassis and found himself knee-deep in mud and feeling the urge to visit his dry cleaner.

"When I got out of the car I thought maybe I should have stayed in the car," he joked afterward, saying that an initial inspection revealed no visible damage to his chassis. "I step out after a 4.68 and thought, 'Oh, great. Now I'm in quicksand.' "

Pedregon's time was second only to the 4.665-second pass posted by Force in October in Joliet, Ill. Force, the Yorba Linda driver who last year won an unprecedented 13th division championship, qualified No. 2 with a time of 4.697.

Saturday was an eventful day of qualifying, following a day in which there was none because of rain.

In the top-fuel division, Tony Schumacher, the defending National Hot Rod Assn. series champion, came out on top of the quickest group of qualifiers in NHRA history. His second of two runs was a track-record 4.447 seconds. It was also the fourth-quickest top-fuel pass ever.

Schumacher's first run was 4.452 seconds, but he reached a higher speed, 334.65 mph, which is a track record and the second-fastest speed ever recorded. Schumacher, who drives a U.S. Army-sponsored dragster, set the national time record of 4.441 seconds in October 2003, at Reading, Pa.

David Grubnic and Scott Kalitta qualified second and third, respectively, with runs of 4.464 and 4.470.

In the pro-stock division, Jim Yates qualified No. 1 with a track-record and career-best pass of 6.699. Kurt Johnson qualified second and Larry Morgan third. Defending champion Greg Anderson qualified sixth.

Drivers have been giving some credit for all the speed to a newly paved starting area.

*

Robert Hight, making his pro debut in the funny car division for John Force Racing, qualified fourth for today's eliminations.... Erica Enders, the only woman in the pro-stock division, failed to qualify. Ashley Force, daughter of the funny car champion, needed her last run in the top-alcohol dragster division to qualify and took the No. 2 spot.... Top-alcohol funny car driver Mert Littlefield lost control of his Pontiac Firebird after his parachute failed and he plowed into the sand pit. He was conscious and alert but transported to a hospital as a precaution. His run of 5.833 qualified him 11th.

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