Courtesy: Rob Geiger, www.NHRA.com

POWERade points leader Doug Kalitta is $100,000 richer after winning the 22nd annual Budweiser Shootout Saturday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Kalitta caught and passed "Hot Rod" Fuller in the last 300 feet to claim Top Fuel's biggest single-race payout with a 4.567 at 329.18 mph.

Both drivers were obviously pumped up for the race with Fuller leaving first with a stellar .031-second reaction time followed shortly thereafter by Kalitta's .044-second launch. The two cars were side-by-side all the way down the track until Fuller's Valvoline rail tossed the blower belt past the 1,000-foot timer, allowing Kalitta's Von Dutch/Mac Tools dragster to take the win.

"That ride back down the return road on the Budweiser Clydesdales is pretty special," Kalitta said. "I guess the race was really close. We were two-thousandths apart at 1,000 foot and that's nothing. I didn't see him at all the whole run but I knew he was over there. I guess he pitched the belt so that worked out for us.

"You can never thank Budweiser enough for the money they put into the sport. We've won this deal three times now (in '98 and '03) so they've obviously been very good to us. It's great to do this with Mac Tools and Von Dutch, plus the Technicoat Cowboys who live here in Vegas.

"We're going to enjoy this tonight for a little while and then get ready for tomorrow. The first round will be tough on all of us (Kalitta and fellow title contenders Tony Schumacher and Brandon Bernstein) because you can suffer the worst hit in the points if you lose then and the other guys go on to the finals or win. We need to go some rounds and hopefully just win the race ourselves. It looks like all three of us have great cars this weekend so it'll be a great battle."

The Budweiser Shootout invites the top eight qualifiers from the previous 12 months to battle for big cash prizes totaling $239,000 over the course of the Shootout series. Fuller will receive $15,000 for finishing runner-up. Semifinalists Tony Schumacher and Larry Dixon pocket $6,000 each, while first-round qualifiers David Baca, Dave Grubnic, Melanie Troxel, and Brandon Bernstein earned $5,000 apiece.

Aside from the $147,000 awarded on race day, Budweiser pays each event's top qualifier a $4,000 bonus. As the race winner, Kalitta is now in line to win a $50,000 "Double-up" bonus from NHRA should he manage to win Sunday's sixth annual ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals.

 

Schumacher, Hight, Line keep leads; Gann takes over top Motorcycle spot

by Rob Geiger, NHRA.com

Top Fuel points leader Doug Kalitta's $100,000 win in the 22nd annual Budweiser Shootout highlighted the final day of professional qualifying for the $1.8 million ACDelco Las Vegas NHRA Nationals. Kalitta (pictured) drove around "Hot Rod" Fuller just before the finish line to claim his third Budweiser Shootout, a special race-within-a-race for the category's top eight qualifiers from the previous 12 months.

Tony Schumacher, Robert Hight, Jason Line, and Shawn Gann earned top qualifier honors at the 23-race POWERade Drag Racing Series' penultimate event. Schumacher (4.445 seconds in Top Fuel) and Hight (4.677 in Funny Car) neared national record numbers en route to the low qualifier podium. Line (6.704 in Pro Stock) and Gann (7.090 in Pro Stock Motorcycle) settled for Las Vegas Motor Speedway records.

After pacing the Top Fuel field by eight hundredths of a second during Friday's action by running a track-record 4.445 at 333.08 mph, it seemed fairly obvious that Schumacher wouldn't be matched in qualifying. The only drama left was whether he'd be able to go nine-thousandths of a second quicker and set a national record, which would be worth 20 bonus points.

"I went as shallow as I could," Schumacher said. "The conditions were perfect and the tune-up was there. We just didn't get it done. Something happened and I saw that the burst panel was out so we'll see what it was when we get back to the pit. Bottom line, we didn't get it done. I'm glad this happened in qualifying rather than tomorrow. We got lucky there.

"It's almost a must-win situation for us now, and we can't just beat Doug in the finals either because that won't be enough. We need to be able to make up a few rounds here at the minimum. I just haven't gotten the breaks this year. Like John Force says, you gotta win all the races you're supposed to and half the ones you're not to win the championship and we haven't done that this year."

Fellow championship hopefuls Brandon Bernstein and points leader Doug Kalitta are also running well here. Bernstein moved up to second in the last round with a 4.522 at 329.58 mph in his Budweiser dragster, while Kalitta ended up fifth on the grid with a 4.530 at 329.38 mph in his Von Dutch/Mac rail.

Kalitta is in line for a big weekend as he won the $100,000 Budweiser Shootout Saturday. Should he win Sunday's race, he'll add a $40,000 winner's check and a $50,000 "Double-up" bonus from NHRA to his team's kitty.

Hight's final-round blast of 4.677 seconds at 333.08 mph was stunning as he registered the third fastest and fifth quickest run ever at a racetrack that's 2,100 feet above sea-level. The cool and dry night air was conducive to big numbers and Hight's crew chief on the Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang, Jimmy Prock, who has helped his man to nine poles this year, went for broke.

"Jimmy was swinging for a home run," Hight said. "We couldn't really believe we had a chance for a record here but it just set up perfectly and he went for it. I don't want to get greedy but it would have been awesome to get those 20 bonus points. It sure would make it interesting in the championship chase."

Hight's father-in-law and championship rival John Force ended up second with a 4.711 at 329.34 mph in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. His incremental numbers during his last run were actually quicker than Hight but his engine expired just before the finish line.

Eric Medlen, the third driver in the Team Force pit, is third here with a 4.712. "Fast Jack" Beckman, who took over the Matco Tools Dodge Charger from Whit Bazemore one month ago, posted a fourth-best 4.720 mph at 330.39 mph, the fastest he's gone in any type of car.

Line scored his sixth low qualifier of the year and the 17th for KB Racing this season with his 6.705 at 204.88 mph. When combined with his previous pass of 204.94 mph, the Summit Racing Pontiac GTO driver now owns both ends of The Strip's Pro Stock records.

"Everything's going as good as it could possibly go up to this point," said Line, "with the exception of Greg being on the same side of the ladder as us. We always try to avoid that. I guess we could see him in the semi's now if we both get that far so maybe the championship will go down to that.

"I see that we open against Warren [Johnson]. He's the ultimate champion so I guess it's fitting that we have him in Round 1. To be the champ you need to beat the champ and he's the champ's champ, so we'll have our work cut out for us."

Six-time series titlist Johnson anchors the field with a 6.769 at 203.09 mph in his GM Performance Parts Pontiac GTO.

Breaking in a brand new Rick Jones chassis in a last-gasp attempt to catch Line, Anderson moved up to fourth with a 6.730 at 203.89 mph. In between Line and Anderson was Mopar pro Allen Johnson (6.726) and Torco Fuels hot shot Dave Connolly (6.727).

Gann appears to be emerging from the worst stretch of his career, earning his first low qualifier award in Pro Stock Motorcycle since the St. Louis race in 2003. Gann's unsponsored Suzuki carried him to a 7.090 at 188.12 mph, which set a track record for elapsed time.

"This new stuff I got is so bad," Gann said. "I've always made my own motors but now I'm making twice as much of the stuff inside so the quality control I have is way better than when I was buying that stuff.

"We call this motor 'Hell Boy' and it's a hitter. I got one more named 'Heidi Fleiss' that's even better on the dyno so we're going to be making some runs now."

The three riders vying for the 2006 POWERade championship -- Andrew Hines, Angelle Sampey, and points leader Antron Brown -- all earned top-half starting berths for Sunday's eliminations. Hines slipped one slot from his top perch on Friday to the No. 2 position with a best of 7.102 at 187.13 mph on his Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson V-Rod. Sampey is close behind in third after a 7.107, while her U.S. Army Suzuki teammate Brown is seventh with a 7.130.