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Dunn’s Luck Finally Turns at Pomona

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mike Dunn has fond memories of watching drag races at Pomona Raceway as a youngster growing up in La Mirada.

As a nitro-fuel dragster racer, however, the 42-year-old son of former driver Jim Dunn had never won a final at Pomona.

“We’ve never really had much luck here,” he said.

His fortunes changed Monday under a cloudy sky when the Wrightsville, Pa., resident continued an impressive three days of drag racing by defeating defending champion Larry Dixon of Vista, Calif., in the rain-delayed top-fuel final at the 39th AutoZone Winternationals.

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Rescheduled from rainy Sunday--and delayed another 75 minutes Monday because of a heavy mist--the finals drew a crowd of about 1,000.

Dunn, who hadn’t won since 1996, dominated the opening event of the 22-event National Hot Rod Assn. season, producing the three quickest quarter-mile runs in NHRA history, including Monday’s winning pass of 4.522 seconds at 313.88 mph.

“This is by far the best week I’ve ever had,” said Dunn, who backed up his national-record qualifying run of 4.503 seconds at 312.35 mph Saturday with a Sunday run of 4.513 seconds at 312.50 mph in the first round of eliminations.

Dixon, trying to become the first top-fuel driver to win consecutive Winternationals titles, smoked his tires and wasn’t close in the final, coasting to the finish line in 13.595 seconds at 60.85 mph.

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“We had to put a new set of tires on the car for the final and they missed the grip at the start,” Dixon said. “We really didn’t have a choice. We ran the life out of the old tires.”

The funny-car final was much more competitive, with Tony Pedregon of Chino Hills winning on a pass of 4.970 seconds at 311.49 mph and ending the Cinderella story of Bellflower’s Gary Densham.

Densham, an auto shop teacher at Gahr High in Cerritos who has never won in 30 years of racing funny cars, fell short with a run of 5.047 seconds at 282.13 mph in his Dodge Avenger, which was quicker than any of his Sunday runs but not fast enough to beat Pedregon’s Ford Mustang.

Pedregon, who at 33 is 19 years younger than the schoolteacher, said that he wasn’t uncomfortable in the spoiler’s role.

Said Pedregon, a teammate of eight-time Winston series champion John Force, who was upset by Densham in the semifinals, “We really think a lot of Densham, but mentally, I can’t feel bad for the person that I’m racing.

“It’s like, if he were a quarterback and I were a linebacker, I’d want to nail him.”

Pedregon indicated Sunday that if the race had been run as scheduled his Mustang might not have been up to the task because of an oil leak.

“We really took advantage of having the extra time because of the rainout,” he said Monday. “I really do believe that car would have been safe enough to run [Sunday] night, but it all worked out for the better.”

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In the pro stock final, the first matching brothers, Jeg Coughlin of Columbus, Ohio, was an easy winner over his older sibling, Troy, ending his brother’s bid for his first NHRA victory with a run of 6.969 seconds at 198.52 mph. Troy Coughlin coasted to the line with a disappointing pass of 11.667 seconds at 76.64 mph.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Auto Zone Winternationals

The Winners

Mike Dunn captured the top fuel division Monday at the rain-delayed AutoZone Winternationals at Pomona Raceway:

* TOP FUEL: Mike Dunn (Wrightsville, Pa.) def. Larry Dixon (Vista, Calif.).

* FUNNY CAR: Tony Pedregon (Chino Hills) def. Gary Densham (Bellflower).

* PRO STOCK: Jeg Coughlin (Columbus, Ohio) def. Troy Coughlin (Columbus, Ohio).

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