Schumacher top qualifier as NHRA season starts

The NHRA Powerade Drag Racing season started the way last year’s ended, with Tony Schumacher atop the Top Fuel dragster field.

The three-time reigning series champion was the quickest Thursday on opening day of the Winternationals in Pomona, Calif. He completed the first of four qualifying attempts with a quarter-mile run in 4.513 seconds at 331.53 mph.

“That was a decent run on a great track,” Schumacher said. “The computer shows that there’s a whole lot left in the tuneup. We have an outstanding race car, and we’re hoping to get off to a stronger start this season, so this plays into it.”

Scott Kalitta was the best in Funny Car (4.818, 322.65), and Greg Anderson leads Pro Stock (6.635, 208.91).

Schumacher clinched his fourth Top Fuel championship on the final run of last year, also at Pomona.

Las Vegas resident Rod Fuller, who finished second to Schumacher in the 2007 championship race, is qualified ninth.

“It was a good first-day baseline run,” said Fuller, who underwent major knee surgery in November. “We got behind the eight ball here last fall, and we wanted to make a solid run.”

Kalitta’s run produced some added drama as one of his two parachutes failed to open and he ran off the end of the track into the sand-filled shutdown area. He was not injured.

The day marked the return of 14-time Funny Car champion John Force, who missed last year’s final three events after being seriously injured in a racing crash near Dallas. He is 14th.

Professional categories will have one qualifying session today and two Saturday before Sunday’s championship eliminations.

• LVMS — NASCAR week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will begin Feb. 28 and 29 with the Las Vegas Dirt Classic. The event on the speedway’s half-mile oval will feature night racing for USAC/California Racing Association Sprint Cars and Western All-Stars Late Models.

Qualifying for NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide races is Feb. 29 on the speedway’s 1.5-mile oval, with the Sam’s Town 300 Nationwide race the following day and the UAW-Dodge 400 Cup race March 2. …

The deadline to purchase weekend passes into the speedway’s Neon Garage infield area for NASCAR weekend is Feb. 15. Only single-day passes will be sold after that.

• NASCAR — The first episode of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s TV series, “Dale Jr. — Shifting Gears,” is scheduled to air at 4 p.m. today on ESPN2 (Cable 31).

The series focuses on Earnhardt’s move from his family’s Dale Earnhardt Inc. team to Hendrick Motorsports.

Contact reporter Jeff Wolf at or (702) 383-0247.

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