Greg Anderson completed a remarkable and emotional comeback on Saturday at the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona when he clinched his fourth NHRA Full Throttle Series Pro Stock championship and first since 2005.
The other three NHRA Full Throttle Series category championships, most notably the Funny Car duel between John Force and Matt Hagan, will be decided on Sunday. The 61-year-old Force will go into Sunday's final race of the 23-race NHRA Full Throttle Series season needing to win two more rounds than 27-year-old Matt Hagan.
During the year, Anderson endured team owner Ken Black's severe health issues, a home fire and a middling regular season. He entered the six-race Countdown playoffs in fourth place and fell to fifth place (94 points back) after the first playoff race, but he proceeded to win three of the next four races in his Summit Racing Pontiac to become the first driver to clinch a title.
“This has been the most trying and certainly the most rewarding season since I've been in drag racing,” Anderson said. “You couldn't have bet me anything in the world two months ago that this would have happened…so you never give up, you never give up.”
This ends a streak of four straight second-place finishes in the final point standings that came on the heels of three consecutive championships from 2003-'05.
“It can't get any better than this,” Anderson said to the Auto Club Raceway fans as he received his championship trophy trackside. “You fans are great. We couldn't do this without you…we wouldn't want to do this without you. This was a total team effort – a great accomplishment by this team the last three months. We came back from the dead. I'm so honored to be back here as the Full Throttle Series champion.”
The most intriguing of the remaining championship races is Funny Car where Force and the Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang team have to go two rounds more than Hagan and the DieHard Dodge Charger team to win the championship.
“We're going to go home, get some sleep and rock and roll in the morning,” Force said. “I know the drill, but this old kid Hagan is a pretty sharp cookie. You ain't going to get in his head. He's a cowboy; he's the real deal.”
Added Hagan: “This DieHard dodge has to be solid. We need to match him round-for-round.”
Interestingly, Force's championship fate may rest in his daughter's hands. If they win out, Hagan would meet Ashley Force Hood in the semifinals. Another intriguing potential matchup would be Force vs. Jack Beckman, Hagan's teammate, in the quarterfinals.
“He's taken me out a lot the last few races so I owe him one,” said Force Hood, who qualified No. 1 for the second straight race. Force Hood lost to Hagan at the semifinals at the just-completed NHRA Las Vegas Nationals.
The other No. 1 qualifiers at the 23rd and final race of the season were Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
Schumacher kept alive his flickering Top Fuel championship hopes with a dramatic 3.794sec run at a track record speed of 322.88 in the U.S. Army dragster. His time is within the 1 percent window to certify a potential national record run. As it stands, Schumacher would have to win the race, set the national record and have Larry Dixon lose first round. Dixon, who has an 82-point lead, is 20-2 in first-round races this season.
“We knew we were going to go after it. There was no reason to go for three points, we were going for the record, or at least the backup,” said Schumacher, who has a 13-thousandths window – 3.757 to a 3.770 – to set the national record.
Schumacher won two of his six straight Top Fuel championships on the final pass of the season; the only way he could win tomorrow would be on the final pass of the season.
“They know we've done some miraculous things. I guarantee you if they go out in the first round, they will be in the stands watching every one of our runs,” Schumacher said. “That's what makes this so fun.”
In Pro Stock qualifying, Allen Johnson collected his eighth No. 1 of the year and fourth straight in his Team Mopar J&J Dodge Avenger with a 6.561 at 211.43 in the final qualifying session.
“We've had a great engine program all year and the car's been a little bit finicky, but we got back in the left lane and made a near-perfect run,” Johnson said.
Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Eddie Krawiec earned the No. 1 qualifier with a track record 6.847 at 197.36 and that means the Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team will have two shots to win the championship.
Points leader and Harley-Davidson teammate Andrew Hines (fifth) would get the first shot to eliminate second-place LE Tonglet in the quarterfinals and, should he falter, Krawiec would have a shot at eliminating Tonglet in the semifinals.
“The way I look at it, and the way the team looks at, is we have two legitimate shots at the championship,” Krawiec said.