The only National Hot Rod Assn. championship left unclaimed when the 39th Auto Club NHRA Finals began this week at Pomona Raceway was pro stock bike.
Geno Scali, riding a Suzuki, took care of that Friday when he set a track record of 7.108 seconds elapsed time to take the provisional No. 1 starting position for Sunday's eliminations and virtually clinch his first title.
Two more qualifying opportunities today could move him from No. 1, but there is no chance he will fail to make the 16-bike field, and all he needed to unseat three-time champion Angelle Savoie was to qualify. Scali's rocket run bettered the 7.119 record set by Craig Treble, also on a Suzuki, on Thursday.
"I was so intent on running a fast time that I held the throttle wide open after I crossed the finish line," said Scali, a nine-year NHRA veteran from Chicago who had never won a race before last year. In one of the most competitive pro stock bike seasons, there have been nine winners in 14 races. Scali won three of them. Savoie, who also won three, is fourth after two qualifying rounds.
"It's really a thrill here at Pomona to run 187 mph on a motorcycle," Scali said. "You throw the clutch lever and there's such a rush it's unbelievable." Tony Schumacher continued to make use of Alan Johnson's tuning in the U.S. Army-sponsored top-fuel car owned by Schumacher's father, improving his No. 1 time to 4.484 seconds, just a few ticks off Doug Kalitta's 4.482 track record.
Funny cars, which ran earlier than the top fuelers in warmer conditions, failed to show any improvement among the leaders as John Force, Whit Bazemore, Tony Pedregon and Del Worsham all held their position from Thursday.
The big surprise was Gary Densham, driving the Auto Club-sponsored Mustang as part of Force's team, who is languishing in 19th position, four spots out of the field. Densham has announced that this would be his final race with Force. He plans to run his own team in 2004.
Things were different in pro stock, where Bruce Allen, 6.773; Larry Morgan, 6.782; and Jeg Coughlin Jr., 6.784, all moved past first-day leader Greg Anderson, who did not improve on his 6.786. The eight leading top-fuel qualifiers from the last year will compete in the 19th annual Budweiser Shootout as part of today's qualifying.
With a $100,000 pot for the winner, the first-round match-ups are Doug Kalitta-Doug Herbert, Cory McClenathan-Darrell Russell, Larry Dixon Jr.-John Smith and Schumacher-David Baca.
The Shootout starts at noon.