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NHRA champions crowned early

POMONA, Calif. -- The NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series championship drama was settled in the semifinals Sunday at the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals.

Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Del Worsham (Top Fuel) clinched the NHRA's Nitro divisions with victorious runs in tightly contested semis.

Both men also went on to claim the Pomona event win with thrilling final-round victories.

The championships were worth $500,000 to each driver.

No. 1 qualifier Hagan knocked out Don Schumacher Racing teammate Jack Beckman -- his closest championship rival -- in the quarterfinals before edging Cruz Pedregon 4.096 seconds to 4.113 in the semis to put the championship out of Pedregon's reach.

Hagan avenged his bitter championship loss at Pomona from one year ago to claim his first Funny Car crown in style by posting the fastest run of the meeting in the final against Robert Hight. His low ET of 4.009 edged Hight's 4.031.

"It's really cool to go out there and win the race and the championship the same day," Hagan said. "It's been a phenomenal day and a phenomenal year. I just can't wait to go out and party and celebrate with my guys.

"You come in expecting the worst and hope for the best. We just had some phenomenal things happen this year. It's a testament to all my guys who worked so damn hard to make this happen."

Hagan also paid tribute to John Force, who came from 38 points behind at Pomona a year ago to claim the 2010 Funny Car title.

Force was honored prior to Sunday's race when Auto Club Raceway named a grandstand after the 15-time NHRA champion.

"John Force made us all work hard for this championship," Hagan said. "But my crew chief Tommy de Lago was so relaxed today and I think being in that situation last year really helped us today.

"I hate the phrase 'You have to lose one before you win one,' but it really seems true. We almost kind of chased it away last year and this year we let it come to us."

In Top Fuel, Worsham came out best in a classic semifinal matchup with Spencer Massey, the points leader coming into Pomona. Worsham ran a 3.800/322.27 mph pass, almost identical to Massey's 3.808/322.73.

Then in a tremendous final round match-up, Worsham's 3.796/318.02 effort was just enough to nose seven-time category champion Tony Schumacher's 's 3.799/321.50 pass. It proved to be the first season that Schumacher was held winless since 2001.

Worsham switched to Top Fuel with Al-Anabi Racing this year after focusing on Funny Car for the first two decades of his career.

"This is what I've raced for a chance to do for the last 21 years -- it's an amazing feeling," Worsham said. "I didn't start off thinking I could win a championship, all I hoped to do was get in a car, but after you start to win some races, you start to think maybe you can win a championship some day.

"We came close in 2003-04 [in Funny Car] but threw some chances away and that's when John Force was in his heyday. Now I have a great team behind me and I just can't say enough about everyone involved."

Worsham scored eight event wins in 11 final rounds in a breakout campaign. Two of those wins came in the final two events of the season after he had fallen behind Massey in the standings.

"There were only a couple times in my career when I came into the final without any pressure, so it was really neat to get to just go out there and race," Worsham said. "I'll admit, after we lost in the second round at Phoenix, I started to think that maybe it just wasn't meant to be.

"But [crew chief] Alan Johnson came up to me and said, 'Don't worry, we're going to change chassis and we're going to win the last two races and the championship.' And that's what we did."

Ed Krawiec wrapped up the Pro Stock Motorcycle title in the quarterfinals with a round win over defending category champion LE Tonglet.

Krawiec reached the PSM finals but red-lighted, handing the event win to Andrew Hines after the duo turned in near-identical 6.81-second passes.

Greg Stanfield was the Pomona winner in Pro Stock, the only category in which the championship was already settled prior to this weekend.

One scary incident occurred during the quarterfinals of Funny Car when Melanie Troxel's engine somehow restarted after she completed a 4.154- second pass against Pedregon.

The In-N-Out Burger sponsored Toyota shot through a chain link fence before coming to rest against a Sportsman class competitor's trailer.

"I've never had anything like that happen before," Troxel said. "The fuel was off, the ignition was off, but I know it can happen with the motor turning over with the clutch welded like that. You're turning the cylinders over but I wouldn't have thought there was enough fuel in the cylinders to do that.

"Once it fired up, I really didn't have very many options about where to go. I could have hit race cars and tow vehicles, or a fence and whatever was on the other side. I just got lucky there were no racers or no fans on the other side of that. I just hate that someone else's equipment got torn up. That's a terrible feeling but the good news is nobody got hurt."

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing and other motorsports for ESPN.com.