In a span of four pressure-packed days last November at Pomona Raceway, both Tony Schumacher and John Force claimed NHRA Powerade Drag Racing Series championships. Schumacher’s performance over the famed quarter-mile was the stuff of legend. He completed the biggest comeback in NHRA history by posting a national-record run in the Auto Club Finals to edge Doug Kalitta by a mere 14 points for the Top Fuel title. How about all four professional classes? Welcome to 2007 and NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship, the first major restructuring of the points race since Wally Parks created the sanctioning body 57 years ago. Basically, here’s the plan: After the first 17 national events of the season, the field vying for the championship in all four professional classes – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycles – will be trimmed to the top eight in the points race, and their point totals will be readjusted. Over the course of the next four races, the field will be halved. The final four will slug it out in Las Vegas and Pomona, with all classes being crowned on Nov. 4 at the Auto Club Finals. It wasn’t nearly that dramatic for Force. He entered the final event of the 23-race season battling Ron Capps and Gary Scelzi for the title and finally secured his unprecedented 14th championship with a second-round win. A pair of championships decided on the final day of the season. What could be better? “Basically, it’s three seasons wrapped into one,” Pro Stock driver Kurt Johnson said. “Our game plan is simple. In the first 17 races, we do whatever`s necessary to be in the top eight. After that, we have four races to guarantee we’re one of the top four. Finally, we’ll have two races to win the championship. “It all comes down to not letting anything slip by from the very start this weekend in Pomona.” According to NHRA records, the 2006 finish was unusual. Despite Schumacher’s close victory, and Force’s last-day heroics, the titles are usually decided long before Pomona. Since 2000, in the three classes that run the full schedule, the average margin of victory has been 256.5 points in Top Fuel, 221.3 in Funny Car and 378.7 in Pro Stock. “We’ve kicked around ideas to kind of spice it up toward the end of the season for quite some time and just weren’t able to come up with a format we were comfortable with or wanted to throw out there and risk trying,” NHRA president Tom Compton said about the new format. “What we tried to do was come up with something very simple and something that was really reflective of our sport, and that is sudden death eliminations. We think this formula is very simple and reflects what happens on our Sunday events, Sunday eliminations, where you win or you’re eliminated.” Graham Light, NHRA vice president of competition and a former racer, said the new playoff system captures the essence of the sport. “Drag racing by its pure nature is a very brutal sport,” Light said. “It’s a sport that you can lose or win in a thousandth of a second. There’s no second chance. It’s not like other forms of motorsports possibly where you can make a mistake and come back in a few hundred miles and win the race. “So this format ties right into what we do. It’s eliminations, it’s brutal. It’s those that run the best are going to get into the Final Eight and the Final Four and win the championship.” Veteran Top Fuel driver Larry Dixon, winner of two championships, can attest to that. “It’s the finality of every single run,” Dixon told National Dragster. “You work all day and – boom! – what’s going to happen happens in an instant, and that scoreboard is going to tell you whether you’re worthy or not. “Your whole day, maybe your year or your whole life, might be judged on that one instant. It’s the most cutthroat thing I can think of in life.” Although drivers were at first skeptical of the idea, a new season has generated new beliefs. “You better be on your game right from the start,” said Schumacher, seeking his fourth straight Top Fuel title. “This new chase will be exciting, for sure. I’ll be interested to see how it all shakes out. As a team, you clearly want to be running your best towards the end of the year. In recent years, we’ve typically run well later in the season. I hope that trend continues this time around.” For Tony Pedregon, a Funny Car champion in 2003, it’s about being consistent throughout the season that extends from February to November. “Winning races has always been and always will be our goal,” said Pedregon, who will race on brother Cruz’s team once again. “Everything else will fall into place. People are tending to concentrate on the new point system. But the points will come with performing consistently each week, and that’s what we are working on as we start the season.” But not everyone is sold thoroughly. “I understand NHRA’s objective, trying to get some excitement in the points races,” said Greg Anderson, a three-time Pro Stock champion. “Sometimes you don’t need to fix it, and sometimes there is a problem and you get a runaway, and that’s what NHRA is trying to fix. “I understand that. I just feel like they made it a little too easy for possibly your top performing car all through the season having one slip in one of those last two races and he may end up fourth in the championship.” THE LOWDOWN COUNTDOWN TO EIGHT Essentially a 17-race “regular season” in which the full-field of drivers in each pro category is reduced to eight who remain eligible for the 2007 Powerade Series world championship. These top eight drivers in each class will have their points adjusted in 10-point increments with 2,070 to first place and 2,000 to eighth place. The “regular season” will begin at the Winternationals in Pomona this weekend and will end at the Toyo Tires Nationals Aug. 16-19 in Reading, Pa. COUNTDOWN TO FOUR The four-race “first-round playoff” in which the field of eight remaining drivers eligible for the championship is reduced in half. These top four drivers in each class will have their points adjusted so there are only 30 points separating first from fourth with 3,030 for first and 3,000 for eighth. The “first-round playoffs” will begin at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Aug. 29-Sept. 3 in Indianapolis and end at the Torco Racing Fuels Nationals Oct. 5-7 in Richmond, Va. COUNTDOWN TO ONE The two-race “championship” in which the field of four remaining drivers eligible for the championship is reduced to the series champion. The two races to crown the champion are the ACDelco Las Vegas Nationals Oct. 25-28 in Las Vegas and the Auto Club Finals Nov. 1-4 in Pomona. – Louis Brewster 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!