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DRAG RACING / WINTERNATIONALS AT POMONA : Track, Event Records Fall During Preliminaries

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

On a cool and cloudy day made for speed, National Hot Rod Assn. drivers responded with track or event records in all professional classes during first-round qualifying of the 34th annual Chief Winternationals Thursday.

Cruz Pedregon, 1992 funny-car champion dethroned last year by John Force, blistered the Pomona Raceway strip with a run of 5.010 seconds elapsed time--third fastest in drag racing history. Pedregon’s speed in his Larry Minor-owned Olds Cutlass was 296.73 m.p.h., a career best.

After Force lost the championship to Pedregon in ‘92, he embarked on what he called his “comeback tour,” winning a record 11 national events to reclaim the title he won in 1991.

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“I don’t have any special name for wanting to get the championship back, like John did, but I think we’re just as dedicated as he was,” Pedregon said. “We did a lot of testing at Firebird (near Phoenix) and Bakersfield, and it paid off today.

“When we got the car, it had a mind of its own, but we wanted a car that we could control so we could adapt it to changing track conditions,” the Moorpark driver said. “In testing, we sort of took a bad animal and tamed it. I think we’re ready for the season now.”

The only faster funny-car clockings were 4.987 by Chuck Etchells last Oct. 1 at Topeka, Kan., and 4.996 by Force two weeks later at Ennis, Tex.

Pedregon bettered the track-record 5.072 run made by Etchells during the Winston Finals last Oct. 30.

Force, who won the Winternationals last year, shut off early in his run and rolled through the finish line in 12.246 seconds at 70.46 m.p.h.

Although 35 funny cars are entered, only 18 attempted to qualify.

Jimmy Nix, a 56-year-old veteran from Oklahoma City, led top-fuel qualifying with a Winternationals-record run of 4.781 seconds. It bettered the 4.784 by Cory McClenathan last year.

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When 13 top-fuel drivers bettered five seconds, sponsoring Chief Auto Parts and the NHRA contributed $5,300 to the American Red Cross relief fund for earthquake victims. Chief donated $4,000, and the NHRA announced it would donate $100 for every run of 4.99 seconds or quicker and $300 for every run of 300 m.p.h. There were no 300 runs Thursday.

Defending pro-stock champion Warren Johnson ran a track-record 7.060 seconds in his 1994 Cutlass, and former two-time champion Darrell Alderman celebrated his return to racing after a two-year absence with a track-record 195.77-m.p.h. run in his ’91 Dodge Daytona. His time of 7.069 was second to Johnson’s.

Alderman had been under a two-year suspension for drug use after winning the NHRA championships in 1991 and ’92.

Both of the previous records were set last year by Johnson, 7.097 seconds and 195.98 m.p.h.

Qualifying will resume today at 2 p.m., with two more runs Saturday at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. to set the 16-car fields.

Eliminations will start at 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

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