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Thu, 8 Feb 2007, 10:38 PM

Bernstein, Hight and Anderson Lead Thursday Qualifying at Pomona
Courtesy of NHRA Communications
Photo copyright 2007 Auto Imagery, Inc.

POMONA, Calif. --

Brandon Bernstein
Top Fuel driver Brandon Bernstein opened the 2007 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series season Thursday at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona with a class-leading 4.494-second pass at 331.61 mph in his Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster.

Two other racers with title aspirations -- Funny Car's Robert Hight and Pro Stock's Greg Anderson -- also took early leads in their respective categories at the CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals. The $2 million race is the first of 23 events in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Bernstein led a trio of Top Fuel drivers in the 4.4-second range. Aside from his smooth pass, '06 championship runner-up Doug Kalitta went 4.495 at 323.50 mph in his Mac Tools dragster, while Rod Fuller drove to a 4.497 at 329.34 mph in his Valvoline dragster. Four-time NHRA champion Tony Schumacher, the winner of the last three POWERade titles, just missed the 4.4-second range with a 4.502 at 324.20 mph in his U.S. Army dragster, placing him fourth.

"It shook a little about 60 feet out but it cleared up right away and my vision cleared up and then it just took off," Bernstein said. "We were going 277 mph at half-track so it was hauling. It's great to be No. 1 but it's obviously very early. We had a lot of momentum at the end of last year and we're hoping to keep that alive heading into this season."

Robert Hight
Rookie Funny Car pilot Ashley Force also made news in her debut, running 4.810 at 281.19 mph in her Castrol/Auto Club Ford Mustang to qualify sixth overall, well ahead of her 14-time champ father John Force, who was 14th. Whit Bazemore, who crossed over from Funny Car to Top Fuel this year, posted a 4.533 in his Matco Tools dragster to grab seventh place, while returning legend Kenny Bernstein will have to wait another day to make the Funny Car field after shutting off early in his Monster Energy/Lucas Oil Dodge Charger.

With all eyes on Funny Car newcomer Ashley Force, it ended up being her teammate Hight earning the spotlight in his Auto Club Ford Mustang with a class-leading 4.693 at 326.79 mph.

Greg Anderson
"It's very exciting to see Ashley out here running with us," Hight said. "I'm really impressed. There's all this pressure on her coming into this race and with her dad being a little nuts, yet somehow she's able to block it all out when she's in that car and she went straight down the track. John wants us to take over for him and it's cool that he's watching us all grow."

Anderson led Pro Stock in his Summit Racing Pontiac GTO by clocking a 6.647 at 208.33 mph.

"We look OK," Anderson said. "We honestly didn't finish these motors and make the decision to run them here until a week ago. I think we have a workable product with lots of room for improvement, which is good because with the way the points deal is now you need to peak at the end of the year."

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