Topeka — The Batmobile smoked its wheels, but this win didn't get away.
Cruz Pedregon, piloting for the last time his "Batman Forever" funny car, ended his run of bad luck just in time to put the Batmobile in mothballs.
After beating brother Tony in the first round, the fastest qualifier, Al Hofmann, in the second and four-time defending series champion John Force in the semifinals, Pedregon lost traction and spun his tires halfway down the Heartland Park track. But he still crossed the finish line ahead of K.C. Spurlock in the finals to win the funny car title at the Western Auto Nationals on Sunday.
"What a day today," Pedregon said. "I won the U.S. Nationals ... this is every bit as exciting, basically because of who we raced today."
Pedregon, a 31-year-old resident of Moorpark, Calif., was one of three professional-class drivers who shook off the effects of a two-hour rain delay to claim titles on Sunday. Scott Kalitta rebounded from a dangerous wheelstand on Saturday to win the top fuel crown, and Warren Johnson consistently motored to the title in pro stock.
The other two winners didn't face the uphill battles that Pedregon won.
His Batmobile, decorated in an all-black Batman motif as part of a special three-race promotion that coincided with the release of the latest Batman movie, entered the Western Auto Nationals with a miserable 1-2 record in elimination rounds. But it blew by Tony Pedregon in Round One. It winged its way past Hofmann, who ranks second in the season series, in Round Two. And it cruised -- or is that Cruzed? -- past Force in the semis, when Force, the season points leader, smoked his tires and limped to the finish.
"Last night I looked at our side of the ladder and thought we might have a short day," Pedregon said.
Both Pedregon and Spurlock lost traction in the finals, but Pedregon kept the pedal down long enough to cross in 5.912 seconds at 273.39 miles per hour.
"When I first started getting loose, I thought the Batman car wasn't quite going to get that win," Pedregon said. "This Batman thing obviously was a little more pressure. I didn't want to see the car go into the rafters without a win."
Top fueler Kalitta, meanwhile, almost saw his car go into the retaining wall during qualifying Saturday. Kalitta, a 33-year-old from Chelsea, Mich., and the reigning series champion, launched off the starting line into a wheelstand that threatened to send him end-over-end down the strip.
"Obviously, we didn't hurt the car too bad," he said with a grin.
The same can't be said for Kalitta's final-round opponent, Kenny Bernstein, who smoked his tires and struggled in at 9.548 seconds, 88.85 mph. Kalitta's winning pass came in 4.820 seconds, 295.27 mph.
Only Kalitta's first-round opponent, Rance McDaniel, made a full run without mishap. Shelly Anderson's supercharger exploded in Round Two, and Tommy Johnson Jr. blew a blower belt in the semifinals.
"Shelly blew up and T.J. had me beat until his belt blew up," Kalitta said. "But you need that kind of luck."
Johnson, a 51-year-old from Sugar Hill, Ga., who won the season series in 1992 and '93, was the only No. 1 pro qualifier to make it past the semifinals. Johnson, the current series points leader, made his winning pass in 7.069 seconds and 194.46 mph. Runner-up Jim Yates finished in 7.128 seconds, 193.54 mph.
Pedregon and Kalitta each earned approximately $30,000 for their victories, while Johnson pocketed about $20,000.