WADE: Drama, Records, Snow & More At NHRA Opener

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POMONA, Calif. — The National Hot Rod Ass’n’s Kragen O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals had plenty of drama as drag-racing began its 60th anniversary celebration at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, including Larry Dixon’s and Tony Schumacher’s national records.

Schumacher watched Saturday as — by one-thousandth of a second — Dixon’s 3.770-second elapsed time in the Al-Anabi dragster eclipsed the national record the U.S. Army driver had set in October 2008 at Richmond, Va. Schumacher didn’t reclaim it with his first-round victory over Troy Buff, although he recorded an outstanding 3.782-second e.t. But he did reset his own national speed record at 327.03 miles per hour on that run. That erased his 325.61 from last October at Las Vegas.

“The bar was set high when they set it,” Dixon said, knowing “they” included the team he has now that switched en masse from Don Schumacher Racing to Alan Johnson Racing. “We were able to bring that record to our camp. I’m proud that the Al-Anabi team has it now.”

But No. 16 qualifier Terry McMillen raised eyebrows in Sunday’s opening round of eliminations, upsetting the No. 1 qualifier and reigning champion Dixon.

Erica Enders marked her re-entry to the Pro Stock class and her return to Victor Cagnazzi Racing with a No. 1 qualifying position and a victorious first-round run. It came at a whopping 212.43 mph speed that tied the second-fastest in Pro Stock history. It came in her ZaZa Energy Cobalt, the lone Chevy in the field.

Cruz Pedregon didn’t skip a beat from his late-2010 surge, grabbing the No. 1 Funny Car spot. He passed Johnny Gray, who turned heads with the provisional top position in his first race in a Funny Car in nearly eight years. In Top Fuel, Del Worsham had a No. 5 start and a semifinal finish after 18 years away from the class as a Funny Car driver.

The weather played a huge role all weekend. The pounding rain wiped out Friday qualifying and plunging temperatures cost the Pro Stock class a final qualifying session — and Mike Edwards, the 2009 series champion and last year’s Winternationals winner, a place in the field.

And John Force came dangerously close to crashing into Bob Bode, claiming he couldn’t see after trying to adjust his headsock. Ironically, Bode was driving the Toyota that Jeff Arend was driving at Charlotte last spring when Force teammate Robert Hight accidentally banged into him.

“We say there’s a Force magnet in that car. Every time that car runs, it tries to suck a Force car over,” Bode said. “We just put the side on it [that Hight’s car had damaged].” Had Force made contact, he said, “I would’ve had to put another side on it because of that.”

Force crossed the center line, shot in front of Bode, opened his parachutes so closely to Bode that the cone that contains them bounced on the top of Bode’s car and blanketed his entire windshield. With little more than a foot between them, Bode did a masterful driving job to swing out from behind Force and avoid a collision.

The day before that, Bode and wife Alice were part of an unheralded event in the pits that’s terribly ordinary in the NHRA, but incredibly extraordinary anywhere else.

Fans Chris Carvalho and wife Chrystine, visiting from Visalia, Calif., approached Bode at his pit, and he invited them under his awning, away from the rain.

Carvalho had taken a photo of Bode last year, had it enlarged, and wanted Bode and wife Alice to autograph it. The Bodes did so happily, but the photo got a few raindrops on it. Immediately Bode ran into his trailer — and came back with an industrial-strength blow dryer. He used it to make sure the picture wasn’t ruined.

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