Rod Fuller has done this before. Fuller outran Melanie Troxel by .054 seconds to capture a Top Fuel victory Sunday at Firebird International Raceway in the 23rd annual Checker Schuck’s Kragen NHRA Nationals in front of a packed house.
“I knew the instant that I hit the throttle on the thing and it made it through the wiggle zone, which is 300 feet, it was on a run,” said Fuller, who made a pass of 4.490 seconds at 327.19 mph to win a rematch of last year’s finals at Firebird. “In January, I didn’t even know that I was going to be driving this year.”
Tony Pedregon earned the Funny Car victory and Kurt Johnson captured the Pro Stock crown.
Fuller drives for David Powers and in the offseason driver Whit Bazemore joined the team. Bazemore, who drives the Matco Tools dragster, was given Fuller’s crew. Fuller was without a sponsor entering 2007 but was assured by Powers that he would compete for the entire season.
“It is hard to put a group of guys together to jell that quick,” said Fuller, whose sponsor Valvoline is on a two-race deal and heads to the next event at Gainesville (Fla.) without a primary sponsor. “We got a great car and great race team so we just have to get out there and let people know we have a spot available. I am confident we can win a championship.”
Fuller, who is nicknamed “Hot Rod,” used to race in the NHRA sportsman competition of Super Comp and won Super Gas in 2004 at Firebird. He has won 15 straight elimination rounds at Firebird.
“Every time I sit in that racecar I say to myself this could be the last time I hit the throttle in this thing,” said Fuller, who earned his fourth career victory and leads the point standings by 43 over Brandon Bernstein. “If it ended today, I could walk away smiling.”
Fuller and his team were on the mark all day, making passes in the 4.40s-4.50s while knocking off David Grubnic (4.466 pass) in the first round, Bob Vandergriff Jr. (4.476) in the quarterfinals and Bazemore (4.525) in the semifinals.
“I joked about it, but we had Canadian horse power,” said Fuller, whose crew chief Rob Flynn, is from Canada.
Fuller is only the third driver to win back-to-back Top Fuel events at Firebird, joining Dick LaHaie (1986-87) and Brandon Bernstein (2003-04).
Pedregon had an outstanding day in his own right, winning the Funny Car event and setting a national elapsedtime record.
Pedregon defeated Robert Hight with a pass of 4.803 at 326.32 mph as Hight smoked the tires at 300 feet and was left to watch Pedregon pull away.
“This was a great weekend,” said Pedregon, who earned 20 bonus points for setting the record, the first time the Funny Car national mark for elapsed time has been set at Firebird. “We come out with a win and record at Phoenix. That is pretty impressive even from our prospective.”
Pedregon backed up his Friday record pass of 4.659 at 324.44 mph with a first-round winning pass of 4.701 at 326.71 mph over Scott Kalitta. To solidify the record Pedregon had to make a pass within 1 percent of the record during the event.
“I think that is just a little reminder that this track has always been good,” said Pedregon, who earned his 33rd career victory and first at Firebird.
“We wouldn’t have thought that coming in.”
Pedregon defeated Jim Head in the quarterfinals with a pass of 4.924 at 254.95 mph and Gary Densham in the semifinals (5.077 at 233.84 mph). Pedregon trails Hight in the points standings by six.
Johnson earned his 36th career win with a pass of 6.694 at 206.67 mph to defeat Jason Line. Johnson is third in the points standings with 146 just behind Jason Line (174) and Greg Anderson (173).
Other winners: Alan Ellis of Mapleton, Utah, Competition Eliminator; Brad Plourd of Maple Valley, Wash., Super Stock; Shawn Langdon of Mira Loma, Calif., Super Comp; Matt Constant of Stockton, Calif., Super Gas; and Jeff Jackson of Wilsonville, Ore., Super Street.