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More rain brings more frustration

February 09, 2009|Jim Peltz

The winter played more havoc with the NHRA's Kragen O'Reilly Winternationals in Pomona as periodic rain Sunday forced the drag races' final rounds to be postponed until today.

Only the first round of eliminations in the sport's two premier classes, top-fuel dragsters and funny cars, could be completed in between the showers at Auto Club Raceway.

The season opener in the National Hot Rod Assn.'s Full Throttle Series is scheduled to resume at 10:30 a.m., although more rain is in the forecast.

Tony Schumacher, who has won the top-fuel championship the last five years, was among those advancing to the second round.

But Cruz Pedregon, who won the 2008 funny car title, was knocked out early by Jack Beckman.

The Winternationals already had been an exercise in frustration, with rain washing out qualifying Thursday and Friday and curbing qualifying Saturday to one round instead of the scheduled two.

That meant the racers -- many of them driving new cars for the 2009 season -- began the 16-driver final eliminations with little track time.

It was "nerve-racking as it could be," said Del Worsham, a Chino Hills funny car driver who advanced to the second round after waiting out a rain delay.

"We were all buckled in and ready to go and -- rain," he said. "I just had to go back [to the garage] and act like we were starting the day all over again."

Spectators with tickets for Thursday, Friday or Sunday can redeem the face value of those tickets for seats at today's racing, the NHRA said.

In other first-round action, defending Winternationals funny car winner Robert Hight beat Jerry Toliver to advance.

But Hight's team owner, funny car legend John Force, lost to Ron Capps, with Capps beating the 15-time champion by less than a car length while reaching 304.67 mph.

"We were in uncharted territory with the [weather] conditions, every team was," Capps said.

With rain washing away much of the tire rubber left on the drag strip, several drivers struggled to keep their powerful funny cars in a straight line.

For instance, in the race between Bob Tasca and Mike Neff, Neff left the starting line too soon -- known as red-lighting, which disqualified him -- and then his car swung wildly right and left before he finally straightened it out.

The funny cars and top-fuel dragsters are still racing only 1,000 feet, 320 feet less than the sport's traditional quarter mile, as a temporary safety measure.

The NHRA, which shortened the races last summer in response to two fatal crashes, is researching other ways to slow the cars, which had reached about 330 mph.

Big name missing

Auto Club Raceway still was abuzz Sunday about the driver who was not in the final eliminations -- two-time top-fuel champion Larry Dixon.

Alan Johnson, who was Schumacher's crew chief during his title streak, formed a new team in the off-season with backing from Sheik Khalid bin Hamad al Thani, a member of Qatar's ruling family.

The Alan Johnson Al-Anabi Racing team then hired Dixon along with Worsham.

But on Saturday, when drivers had their only attempt to qualify, Dixon's car suffered a broken ignition at the starting line and missed final eliminations.

"To say we're disappointed might be the biggest understatement ever," said Dixon, a Van Nuys native.

"Sheik Khalid was here and we really wanted to put on a good show for him. Sometimes parts break."

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james.peltz@latimes.com

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