Pedregon does it all in Las Vegas

Bernstein, Anderson, Treble score

Courtesy NHRA.com/Rob Geiger

 

Tony Pedregon made history by ending his boss John Force's string of 10 consecutive Funny Car championships with a thrilling final-round win over rival Whit Bazemore at the third annual ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals. The victory clinched the series title and the race trophy at the same time, sending the entire John Force Racing entourage into a frenzy.

 

Red-hot Top Fuel legend Kenny Bernstein won his third race in the last four events, pushing his career mark to 68 wins. Pro Stock champion Greg Anderson tied the single season record for victories in a season with his 11th of the '03 campaign, while Craig Treble broke through for his first Pro Stock Bike win of the year, this one over Angelle Savoie.

 

The two hottest Top Fuel drivers lined up in the finals with Bernstein taking the win over Tony Schumacher by 4.545 to 5.436-second advantage. Coming into this event, Schumacher had won three of the last five events, with Bernstein winning the other two, including the last stop in Dallas.

 

Coming into the final, Schumacher appeared to have the edge, but his dragster puffed its tires just past half-track, which allowed Bernstein to zip away for the victory. Before his tire's hazed, Schumacher appeared to be exactly even with six-time champion Bernstein.

 

"They were the car to beat, no question," Bernstein said. "We'd run a 4.52 and they'd run a 4.50. But I've always been of the opinion that when you get to the final it's anyone's game and that proved true once again.

 

"When Tim [Richards, crew chief] gets his hands on a [tune-up] he's so good at keeping the car right in that area. To win three of the last four races says all you need to know about Tim and Kim [Richards], and the rest of the crew for that matter.

 

"I love driving this Budweiser King car. I love competing. But I don't think that turning the car over to Brandon will be as tough this time around. I'm ready for him to get back in there. I went through a time where I was looking for a way to keep driving but I'm getting more and more comfortable with the thought of being a team owner. It'll hit me when we arrive in Pomona at the start of next year, that feeling that I want to jump in there, but this time it won't be as bad as it was this year."

 

Bernstein and his Budweiser team dismissed Rhonda Hartman-Smith, her husband John Smith, and Scott Kalitta en route to the Bud King's 117th career final-round appearance. He then took care of business in the final and captured his 38th Top Fuel win.

 

After earning his third low qualifier award in succession during time trails, Schumacher's U.S. Army rail didn't fail until the final, running the quickest E.T. of the quarter and semifinal rounds. After taking out David Baca in the opening session, he used a 4.52 to trailer Darrell Russell, and a 4.50 to outrun Doug Kalitta's 4.53.

The Funny Car final was a race worthy of the POWERade championship with the last two men in the running for the title battling all the way down the strip. Like the Top Fuel finale, the Funny Car trophy round started with both cars racing in each other's shadow until about half-track when both machines began to spin their tires. It was a pedaling contest from that point and Pedregon did just enough to take a .03-second win.

 

The final numbers showed Pedregon winning with a 5.135 at 272.39 mph to Bazemore's 5.183 at 266.64 mph. Adding to the drama, Pedregon was assessed an oildown violation but since it was just his second of the year there was no deduction in points, which would have sent the coronation ceremony to Pomona, Calif.

 

Poignantly, it was Bazemore who was the first to congratulate Pedregon after both men stopped on the racing surface.

 

"That was a Las Vegas finish for you," Pedregon said. "That was all the drama and build up I could take. I'll tell you, the last thing I expected was for this car to smoke the tires like that but it happened and thankfully, it happened to him too and we were able to win. That just shows that this was not easy. The ups and downs of that pass were no different then how the whole year has been. But it makes it all that much sweeter.

 

"I'm happy to wrap it up here. Even with Bazemore staring me down and all the stuff we've said back and forth, I consider him a good person and a worthy competitor. Beating him for the championship makes it all the more satisfying because I know how good that team is over there.

 

"I'm so happy for Dickie (Venables) and John (Medlen, co-crew chiefs) and even John (Force).  He was so excited at the top end he was like a kid who had just seen the best drag race of his life. I'm very proud to deliver the goods for him. To me he's of the same caliber of Richard Petty.

 

"This hasn't hit me yet. Maybe it will in a few days. It's so big and such an important accomplishment in my life. I know the rumors floating around about my future but after this I can tell you it will take a lot to get me away from this group of people. They're my family."

 

In reaching the final, Pedregon's Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang roared out of the top position and past Terry Haddock, Del Worsham, Gary Scelzi, and Bazemore. The anxiousness of the final was enhanced by the fact he didn't earn lane choice, but in the end it didn't matter.  The Matco Tools Dodge Stratus R/T was a handful for every car it encountered. After Bazemore beat Tommy Johnson Jr. in the opening round, he posted the quickest passes of the next two sessions to advance to his 36th career final. Bazemore's victims included Phil Burkart Jr. and Frank Pedregon, who both succumbed to 4.86 passes.

 

After surrendering a large starting-line advantage to Kurt Johnson ¿ .035 to .069 seconds ¿ Pro Stock winner Anderson managed to catch and pass his good friend to win his 11th race of the year. Anderson's 6.837 at 201.73 mph gave him a .007-second margin of victory over K.J.'s 6.878 at 200.56 mph, improving Anderson's final-round record against Johnson to 5-0 on the season.

 

 

Anderson now owns the single-season elimination round record for Pro Stock with 63 round wins, eclipsing Jeg Coughlin's mark of 62 set in 2000. He also tied the class record for most final rounds in a season with 14, which Coughlin (2000) and Darrell Alderman (1991) also accumulated. Further, Anderson is tied with Alderman for most Pro Stock victories in a single season with 11, another record Alderman set in 1991.

 

"There's so many stories I can tell this year and it just keeps getting better," Anderson said. "Some times I feel like I don't even deserve to be this lucky. You race with a target on your back. I swear I've seen more double-zero lights against me because everyone's taking their shots, and at the same time I see us winning by a hundredth so it's not like we're totally dominating people, we just keep doing enough to win.

 

"There are so many high points to this season. I keep thinking 'How in the world will we ever match this next year.' But to tell you the truth, with the team I have and the backing from Ken Black, I think we might even be better, which is saying a lot because I don't remember anyone having a year like this in Pro Stock ever before. It's just phenomenal what we've been able to do."

 

At the home of his title sponsor, Vegas General Construction, Anderson had yet another memorable day. Starting from the No. 1 position, he had little trouble beating challengers Mike Corvo Jr., Ron Krisher, Jeg Coughlin Jr., and Johnson. Anderson also bettered his track E.T. record in the first round with a 6.852-second blast.

 

Flying the colors of his ACDelco, Johnson emerged from the bottom half of the field to reach his 49th career final by conquering Gene Wilson, Taylor Lastor III, and Anderson's teammate Jason Line.

 

Treble waited until the second-to-last race of the season, but the man who many picked as a preseason favorite to win the POWERade Pro Stock Bike title this year finally broke through for his first win of the year in Las Vegas. This one came against one of his longtime rivals, Angelle Savoie, who just didn't have enough steam to earn her first victory for the U.S. Army.

 

The win was convincing from end-to-end, as Treble left first (.028 to .042) and never looked back, leading Savoie at every incremental timer. At the finish line it was Treble crossing in 7.178 at 185.33 mph to Savoie's 7.230 at 188.78 mph.

 

"This class is so tough now and there are so many bikes that can win," Treble said. "They are much tougher to come by now. It's awesome to win.

 

"I borrowed Matt [Hines'] bike this weekend, the same one he rode last year. The last time it was on the track was the Auto Club Finals one year ago and he won that race. Now I take it out here and win with it. I might not give it back.

 

"The Vance & Hines guys are awesome. Matt lends me his bike and it turns out I have to race both of their bikes today. I was scared running those Harley's because they run well at altitude but when the air came around in the semifinals and this thing posted a 7.16, I knew I had a chance. When I got to the final, Matt said, 'You have to race the girl. You have to win. Don't touch a thing.' So I didn't and we ran away with it."

 

Amazingly, the Suzuki Treble used to win his sixth career race in 13 final-round showings was one he borrowed from three-time champion Matt Hines. He even set a Las Vegas Motor Speedway track E.T. record with the bike in the semifinals when he posted a 7.165 at 185.89 mph against Matt's brother Andrew Hines. Treble also beat Hines' teammate GT Tonglet and Joe Desantis, who broke at the starting line.

 

U.S. Army pro Savoie raced to her 48th trophy round by out-pacing Josh Helvie, Shawn Gann, and Mike Berry. She is now 31-17 when the trophy is on the line.

Savoie's win over Gann combined with POWERade points leader Geno Scali's quarterfinal loss to Berry delayed the coronation of the 2003 Pro Stock Bike champion until the last race of the season. Savoie is still mathematically alive for her fourth straight title as she now trails Scali by 117 points.