John Force earned his 111th career Funny Car victory Sunday at the seventh annual NHRA Route 66 Nationals at Route 66 Raceway. Doug Kalitta, Jason Line and Shawn Gann also won their respective categories at the $1.8 million race, the eighth of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Force blasted his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang down the quarter-mile in 4.752 seconds at 325.30 mph, well ahead of rival Whit Bazemore, who lost traction in his Matco Tools Dodge Stratus and slowed to a pass of 8.034 at 115.06. It was Force?s second victory of 2004. "After I won earlier this season, I wore that winner?s circle hat for a week," said Force. "I will never take a victory for granted again in my career. Today we knew in the final round we could try and set a record for time, but we decided to get this old hot rod down the track and go for the win and that is exactly what we did. We had a strategy and we knew we could probably set the national record, but I wanted to get the win and the POWERade money to pay the guys on my team and to pay the bills." In order to advance to the final round, Force had to defeat former teammate and the defending NHRA POWERade Funny Car champion, Tony Pedregon. Pedregon was the No. 1 qualifier heading into eliminations. Pedregon darted out to an early lead ahead of Force, who was having mechanical problems in his Mustang, but Pedregon's Quaker State Chevy Monte Carlo started to swerve towards the left lane, eventually crossing the center-line while hitting the orange cones that separate the lanes. The violation disqualified Pedregon. "My heap wasn?t even running before we had to race Tony," said Force, a 12-time NHRA champion. "We were going to switch motors out, then (co-crew chief) Bernie (Fedderly) thought the mag-switch was bad, so we changed it. I was going to run it for 100-feet or so then shut it off, just to see what happened. Next thing I know, it's raining orange cones and I'm thinking 'hot dog!' The crosswind had to have hit Tony?s car, because I know him real well and he is way too good of a driver to let something like that happen." Bazemore appeared to be the favorite against Force heading into the final round. In his semifinal matchup against Tony Bartone, Bazemore made the quickest and fastest Funny Car pass in NHRA history, establishing a national record for time at 4.713 and hitting a speed of 333.25. Bazemore?s qualifying time of 4.731 backed up the record-setting run, but the Indianapolis resident was unable to run within the required 1 percent mandated by NHRA to set a national speed record in his final round loss. "It's disappointing to lose," said Bazemore, a three-time winner at Route 66 Raceway. "No matter how good the rest of the weekend is, you come to win the race. We had a good chance and we proved a lot this weekend. I think (crew chief) Lee (Beard) and the team did an outstanding job. The bottom line is we?re disappointed. What matters is winning the race and beating John Force and it didn't happen. We've gone to four final rounds in five races, so we're doing well, we're excited and we're looking forward to going to Topeka. The national record is fine for your ego and it's cool, but what's more important, I think, right now is being able to go down the track on a hot track and being competitive there, and we proved that last weekend. We're not going to see conditions like this for a long time. This is a great, great facility." Bazemore's Funny Car teammate, Gary Scelzi, set the national speed record at 330.55, which he backed up in his Hemi-powered Oakley Dodge Stratus during qualifying. The runner-up finish plus the additional 20 POWERade points awarded for setting the E.T. national record, moved Bazemore atop the point standings for the second time in his career. He led the standings following his win at Memphis, Tenn., last season but was ousted from the top spot by Pedregon at the next event. Force?s win moved him into second place, 13 points behind Bazemore. Del Worsham, who had led the standings since his victory at Phoenix in early March, was eliminated in the opening round Sunday and fell into the No. 3 spot, 32 points behind Bazemore. Kalitta made the quickest Top Fuel pass in NHRA history as he sped down the drag strip in his Mac Tools dragster in 4.420 at 328.22, well ahead of the Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster driven by Brandon Bernstein, which recorded slower numbers of 5.283 at 182.08 after the front wheels of the dragster lifted of the ground nearly flipping the vehicle over. Bernstein had been 5-0 in final round matchups in his career, including 2-0 this year, but lost to Kalitta, who had defeated in the final round at Phoenix. "It was an interesting day for us for sure," said Kalitta. "First off, Cory (McClenathan) had us in the second round, but he left early. That was our lucky round for the day. You always need a lucky round. I knew the final against Brandon was going to be a great race. His team is real tough and you have to be prepared because you know he is going to be good on the (Christmas) tree." The victory moved Kalitta to within 102 points of leader Tony Schumacher and the U.S. Army dragster, which was eliminated by Bernstein in the semifinals. Bernstein?s runner-up finish leaves him 43 points out of first place. "This is the first victory we have earned for (crew chief) Rahn Tobler," Kalitta said. "(Rahn?s wife) Shirley (Muldowney) was here, along with so many members of my family and tons of friends from Michigan. This win was awesome." Line scored the first Pro Stock victory of his career when teammate and fellow Pontiac Grand Am driver Greg Anderson fouled at the starting line and was disqualified. Line also earned the No. 1 qualifying position in his KB Framers-sponsored Pontiac, giving him and Anderson seven of the eight top spots this season, and seven of eight possible victories. "I saw Greg red-light at the start, but I wish he hadn?t done that," Line said. "I was really surprised to see him leave early. But, he?s as happy for me as anybody else out there. It?s a win-win situation for us, the whole team wins." Line, the 1993 Stock eliminator national champion and a former employee for Joe Gibbs Racing on the NASCAR circuit, earned his first victory in his 12th professional start. "As a former sportsman racer, to win in the Pro Stock category is amazing," said the 34-year-old Line. "My goal for the whole year was to make it to one final round. Now we?ve been to three final rounds already and we won one of them." Gann rode his Mac Tools/Gann Speed Suzuki to the winner's circle for the first time this season and the third time of his career when current point standings leader Andrew Hines also fouled at the starting line atop his Screamin? Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson. "I saw Andrew red-light at the start," said Gann. "The Harley-Davidsons have the obvious advantage right now in this class. But, we knew going up to the starting line that anything could have happened. This is racing, and that is the way it goes. Throughout my career I have usually put together a stretch of late round appearances. I hope this win, coming this early in the season, is the beginning of that late round stretch. I just hope this one lasts all year."
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