Antron Brown drives his top-fuel dragster to a provisional top qualifying… ( Teresa Long / Associated…)
One way or another, it's likely that drag-racing mogul Don Schumacher will be smiling this weekend.
Five of the leading contenders to win the championships in drag racing's two premier classes, top fuel and funny car, drive for Schumacher and those titles will be decided this weekend at the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona.
It's the season finale for the National Hot Rod Assn.'s Full Throttle Series, in which the top-fuel dragsters and funny cars — dubbed "nitro" cars because they run on nitromethane fuel — reach speeds above 300 mph in 1,000-foot races.
Qualifying rounds are Thursday through Saturday, and final eliminations among the top 16 qualifiers in each class are Sunday.
Four of the five Don Schumacher Racing drivers in title contention — Antron Brown and Spencer Massey in top fuel, and Jack Beckman and Ron Capps in funny car — are trying to win their first championship.
The exception is Don's son Tony Schumacher, who has won a record seven top-fuel titles, including a record six consecutive championships from 2004 through 2009.
This year Tony Schumacher arrives at Auto Club Raceway second in the standings, 65 points behind Brown, who's poised to become the first African American to win an NHRA title. Massey is 70 points back in third.
It will be tough for Tony Schumacher or Massey to overtake Brown for the top-fuel championship this weekend, but not impossible.
"They're my teammates, but, still, I want to win," said Massey, who has four victories this season. "It's the end of what we've been dreaming about doing all season."
In funny car, Beckman leads the championship standings by a slim four points over Capps. Mike Neff, who drives for the Yorba Linda-based team of John Force, the 15-time funny car champ, is 88 points behind in third.
Force and his daughter Courtney, 24, who's wrapping up a rookie Full Throttle Series season that included her first win, at Seattle in August, also will race in Pomona.
Beckman finished second in the title hunt last year to champion Matt Hagan, yet another driver for Don Schumacher Racing.
Beckman, 46, is from Norco and got hooked on the sport in the early 1970s when an uncle took him to the now-defunct Orange County International Raceway drag strip in Irvine.
"Just the first time I saw those cars, felt those cars, smelled those cars, listened to them and watched them, everything about them was absolutely thrilling," he recalled. "We get a paycheck to do what we absolutely love to do."
Capps, meanwhile, is trying to shed his history as a bridesmaid, having finished second in the title standings three times, most recently in 2005. And Capps, 47, said he's surprisingly calm ahead of the finals.
"I feel so confident that we're going to be able to at least show up and give the fans a run for this against Jack's car and make it fun," Capps said.