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DRAG RACING

Force team dominates as the rain finally lets up in Pomona

Robert Hight is the fastest qualifier in top fuel, with Ashley Force Hood and John Force close behind.

February 08, 2009|Jim Peltz

The skies cleared just long enough Saturday for John Force Racing to establish itself as the favorite funny car team in today's NHRA drag races in Pomona.

In the first and only round of qualifying for the season-opening Kragen O'Reilly Winternationals at Auto Club Speedway, Force driver and defending race winner Robert Hight posted the fastest time of 4.037 seconds down the 1,000-foot track.

Del Worsham qualified a tick slower at 4.038 seconds, followed by John Force's daughter, Ashley Force Hood, and the 59-year-old Force himself, a 15-time funny car champion whose team is based in Yorba Linda.

"It's a great start" and the Force team's strong start "shows how hard we worked over the winter," Hight said.

The speeds of Hight, Worsham, Force Hood and others using the drag strip's left lane weren't recorded because of a technical problem with the track scoring system, but John Force was clocked at 304.39 mph in the right lane.

The timing snafu remained unresolved in qualifying for top fuel, the other elite class in the National Hot Rod Assn.'s premier Full Throttle Series, where Antron Brown was first with a pass of 3.708 seconds in the left lane.

Joe Hartley was second at 3.748 seconds and Cory McClenathan third at 3.851 seconds.

However, the NHRA later threw out the official times for Brown and Hartley as well because of another technical problem at the track, but said the two still would advance to today's eliminations.

And in one of the day's surprises, two-time top-fuel champion Larry Dixon failed to qualify among the fastest 16 drivers for today's final eliminations.

After the first two qualifying rounds were rained out Thursday and Friday, it appeared Saturday's schedule also might be washed away as more showers arrived. By 2 p.m. the rain had stopped and drivers were able to make their first competitive runs of the season. The NHRA still requires that the 7,000-horsepower funny cars and top-fuel dragsters race only 1,000 feet, 320 feet less than the sport's traditional quarter mile.

The change was made last summer in response to two fatal crashes while the NHRA looks for other ways to slow the cars, which had been reaching speeds of 330 mph.

One of the most anticipated top-fuel runs came at the end of qualifying, when Tony Schumacher -- winner of the last five championships -- lined up against Dixon.

Alan Johnson, Schumacher's crew chief during his winning streak, left during the off-season to start his own team with Dixon as his top-fuel driver. But Dixon had problems off the starting line and was 18th while Schumacher qualified fifth.

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james.peltz@latimes.com

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