NHRA Story
Dixon, Cruz, A.J., Stoffer opening-day leaders in Dallas
Friday, September 24, 2010

by Phil Burgess, National DRAGSTER Editor


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Larry Dixon, Cruz Pedregon, Allen Johnson, and Karen Stoffer lead their respective fields after the opening day of qualifying at the O'Reilly Super Start Batteries NHRA Fall Nationals at Texas Motorplex outside of Dallas

Hot and humid weather in the 90s and track temperatures in excess of 140 degrees slowed the Full Throttle Pros on the all-concrete track in the early going, but everything came together in the cool evening session with a barrage of quicker runs that invalidated much of the day's earlier work and made for some validating moments, especially for non-playoff contender Pedregon and for both Johnson and Stoffer in their championship pursuits The event, which this year is celebrating its silver anniversary, is the third of six in NHRA's Countdown to the Championship playoff segment leading to the crowing of this season's NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series champs in Pomona in November.

Larry Dixon

Dixon continues to rampage through Top Fuel with the Jason McCulloch-tuned Al-Anabi machine, leading both qualifying sessions on the day after topping the spectacular evening session with a 3.852 blast for the No. 1 spot. Dixon, who already has six No. 1s to his credit this year and 46 in his career, gained the maximum six bonus points and now leads the points race by 88 points, three more than he entered with.

“Obviously, being at the back of the pack and getting to see what some of the other cars did or didn’t do helps them," said Dixon. "They’re making adjustments as the session progresses, and it was just enough.”

“From my standpoint it seemed really similar to last year. It was really hot and it was a struggle to get down the track in the first session, then in the second session you get the sun off the track and that tightens it up and the cars got running. It was good, especially with our car running well. Alan [Johnson, team manager] and Jason [McCulloch, crew chief] hit it and got us some more of those bonus points, which we still need.”

Cory McClenathan, who is chasing Dixon in points, is chasing him on the sheets too as the No. 2 driver after a 3.881 from the Fram dragster. Brandon Bernstein clocked a 3.906 in the Copart dragster for the No. 3 spot and Dave Grubnic surprised everyone with a 3.933 for the fourth position in the Kalitta Motorsports machine.

Grubnic's teammate, Doug Kalitta is No. 5 at 3.943, and homestate favorite Steve Torrence holds down the No. 6 position with a 3.946, just ahead of Bob Vandergriff Jr. (3.975) and Antron Brown's 3.981.

Terry McMillen holds down the 12th and final elapsed time to transfer into Saturday's final two sessions after running 4.101 in the Amalie Oil dragster.

World champ Tony Schumacher had a rough Friday. He lost the clocking on his first run when parts coming off of Doug Kalitta's exploding engine tripped his timers and then he blew the burst panel at halftrack on his evening attempt, leaving him outside the top 12 heading into Saturday.

Cruz Pedregon
Pedregon, hot off of a dominating effort in Charlotte where he won from the pole, put his Snap-on Toyota back in the top spot halfway through qualifying in Dallas with a dazzling 4.129. Pedregon, who has 35 career No. 1s, hadn't qualified No. 1 this year until last weekend and now he's on pace for a second straight, even though he's not part of the Countdown playoff party.

"I don’t really think much about playing the role of a spoiler for the rest of the year," said Pedregon. "For ourselves, we want to race under pressure like we were in [the Countdown playoffs]. It’s a big race here, Dallas has always been one of the big ones, and we’ve managed to win here before. We just want to do the best possible job that we can to prepare for next year.

"What we’ve recently achieved is just more consistency. We’ve figured out what not to do. In the first session we tried very hard to get down the track with a nice soft run but still smoked the tires. When we were in the staging lanes for the second round in the evening, the temperatures kept dropping down, so we started turning things up a bit more on the tune-up. It was a real credit to the team because we ended up giving it just the right amount. I hope it’s good and hot tomorrow so that we can run with our hot track set-up again."

There's another non-Countdown Toyota in the second spot as well as Jeff Arend's DHL machine occupies the position behind Pedregon after posting a 4.163 in the evening session; Arend also was No. 2 after the day's first session, making for an interesting twist in the playoff story and making Pedregon and Arend possible spoilers. First-session leader Tim Wilkerson, coming off a DNQ in Charlotte, also has some redemption as the playoffs' highest-ranked qualifier with a third-quick 4.181. Defending world champ Robert Hight is fourth at 4.183.

The top eight is rounded out by Countdown playoff entries, with Bob Tasca III (4.200), Jack Beckman (4.225), Del Worsham(4.249), and Tony Pedregon (4.263) filling out the field's top half.

The No. 12 spot belongs to Ashley Force Hood, who recorded a 4.713. Ron Capps and Matt Hagan highlight those on the outside looking in heading into Sunday's final two attempts.

Allen Johnson

Johnson bounced back from a stinging DQ in Charlotte by grabbing the No. 1 spot in Pro Stock with a stout 6.637 in the afternoon session to push his Mopar Avenger into the provisional pole position. Johnson has four previous No. 1 efforts this season and 11 in his career.

"There is a sense of seeking some redemption for this race," Johnson admitted. "I’m very focused, as is the entire team. And the backing of the fans, friends, and everyone else has been tremendous. I think we doubled our fan base since Charlotte. We’ve put ourselves in the position to where we feel like we have to swing for the fence on every run. But feel very strongly that we still have a shot at this thing and we’re going to try to take a negative and make it a positive.

"[For the second session] the humidity went up before the run and the track temperature came down, so it was kind of a trade-off. We made some major changes between the runs to adjust to the heat, but it was actually a mechanical problem that we had in the first round of qualifying that slowed us down so much."

First-session leader Jason Line slipped one spot to second despite improving on his earlier 6.644 to 6.637 in his Summit Pontiac while points leader Mike Edwards also improved – from 6.658 to 6.654 – yet went to third. Larry Morgan's Lucas Oil Mustang is the surprise of the field with a fourth-best 6.660.

The remainder of the top eight in a close-knit bunch with V. Gaines (6.662), Johnny Gray (6.663), Ron Krisher (6.666), and Charlotte champ Greg Anderson (6.667) all bunched up.

Rodger Brogdon holds down the 12th and final transfer spot with a 6.681.

Karen Stoffer

Stoffer, who opened the season with the No. 1 spot in Gainesville with a national-record blast of 6.85, is halfway to her second No. 1 of the season and what would the third of her career after pushing the GEICO Suzuki to the top spot in the day's first session with a 6.953 that held up throughout the day.

"We've been getting the bike down the track pretty well recently, so it was a relief to be back in the No. 1 spot, where we haven't been since the beginning of the year," she acknowledged. "We know we have the bike but we’ve had issues all year long. The boys have been working hard on the tune-up, but they've been working harder on the chassis, so it was good to hit it right off the bat and learning how to tune on a hat track.

"I don’t know if it will hold because I think people are just trying to figure out how to get it to the track, but I know the GEICO Powersports bike will get quicker. We still have a little left in it."

Eddie Krawiec sits in the No. 2 spot with the Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley Davidson with a 6.955 while Suzuki rider Steve Johnson is third with a 6.959. Krawiec's Harley teammate, Andrew Hines, is fourth with a 6.996. Krawiec's speed, 195.03, is a new track record.

The top eight is rounded out by trio of Suzukis -- Indy and Charlotte champ LE Tonglet (6.999), Craig Treble, and Michael Smith (7.043) – and the Buell of David Hope (7.048).

The No. 12 spot is held down by Jim Underdahl at 7.107.