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Bobby Baldwin's Finish Line Top Fuel dragster was a breath of fresh air for those who tire of NHRA Top Fuel finals featuring the Scelzis, Schumachers, Dixons, and Kalittas. (One or the other of this quartet has won 17 of the previous 22 national events.) And for that matter, the same applies to Matco Tools Nationals winner Cory McClenathan, who wrang up his first NHRA points win of the year, although he did win the non-points Winston No Bull Showdown this summer. The out-of-pocket-budgeted Baldwin, who has never made a final in his NHRA career, probably would walk off with any Top Fuel Surprise of the Year awards after this game effort.

Just when it looked like Cory McClenathan was going to endure his worst season in NHRA racing, he roars to life in Houston. What was really eye-opening about his victory in his debuting a new Murf McKinney-chassied (and, of course, Wes Cerny-tuned) dragster was how he won. He qualified with a 4.54 and then rattled off four-straight 4.5-second runs to become the first Top Fuel dragster racer of the 90-percent era to roll all 'fifties at an NHRA national event. It has to be somewhat bitterly ironic that this car appears to have only a two-race life in front of it with the MBNA team as owner Joe Gibbs is pulling out and hauling ass to NASCAR.

In 1990, it was Ed "the Ace" McCulloch and the Miller High Life Olds. A year later, Jim White and the first-over-290 Funny Car, Roland Leong's Hawaiian Punch Daytona stepped to the plate. After White came the fly in the ointment, Cruz Pedregon in the McDonald's Pontiac, but after 1992, it's been all John Force in Funny Car the past decade plus and as can be seen from the above, the competition ain't been easy. This year's counter effort came from the world of professional wrestling with the dual WWF Funny Cars of Jerry Toliver and Jim Epler, and they took the big 1-2-3 on the mat from the Yorba Linda crusher at Houston. Toliver may finish second, but Force won the Winston title for a record-tying 10th time (Bob Glidden had 10 in Pro Stock), and equally impressive eighth straight time.

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