Cory McClenathan highlighted a spectacular final qualifying session with the quickest 1,000-foot pass in history on a somber day at the 41st annual NHRA SuperNationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park. Robert Hight, Mike Edwards, and Michael Phillips lead their respective fields in Saturday's qualifying.
The day's racing was conducted in a somber tone following the top-end accident that claimed the life of Alcohol Funny Car racer Neal Parker during the day's first qualifying session. NHRA has dedicated the remainder of the event to the memory of the New Jersey-based racer. The long delay that occurred as a result of the incident pushed the final Full Throttle qualifying until well after 8 p.m., setting up prime conditions which were well taken advantage of with a slew of career bests and some amazing numbers.
McClenathan certainly had no problems with the superior conditions, blasting his Todd Okuhara- and Phil Shuler-tuned Fram dragster to a 3.752, far and away the quickest pass in class history, supplanting the 3.771 registered in Richmond in 2008 by Tony Schumacher and his speed of 324.75 in second only to the 324.98 recorded by Schumacher earlier this year in Gainesville.
The conditions were perfect and I knew my guys went up there thinking that if it runs 3.78 we're going to be disappointed," said McClenathan, already a three-time low qualifier this season. "Todd and Phil were throwing everything at it; they told me this was something they've tried three different times before and hadn't made it down the track, and this time it just went perfect.. it nosed over a little at 900 feet but my thought was, 'Man, it's over already?' When I came around the corner the Safety Safari guys were going crazy so I knew that it had to be good.
"We've been working with IUPUI -- Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis -- and those kids are just unbelievable when it comes to aerodynamics and how chassis should work. We've been working close with them and they were a big part of some configurations we've used. This car is basically set up the way they'd like to see it go in the future, especially when it comes to aerodynamics. We're testing some things on the car this weekend on different parts of the car to see what the air does – especially in front of the injector and behind the driver – and I think it's definitely part of what makes this car go quicker."
Brandon Bernstein grabbed the No. 2 spot with a 3.807, one of four career bests in the fuel dragster ranks, with his Copart dragster. Behind him are former event Pro Stock Motorcycle winner Antron Brown (3.817) and Steve Torrence, with a career-best 3.819.
The top eight is rounded out by Tony Schumacher, Shawn Langdon, Larry Dixon, and Doug Kalitta, none of whom was able to knock McClenathan from the top spot. Schumacher, a winner here in 2008 whose father Don won here in Funny Car in 1972, was the first-session leader with a 3.830. Dixon, the defending event champ who has five wins here in nine final-round appearances, wasn't able to match Cory Mac, smoking the tires and having to rest on his earlier 3.838, good for the No. 7 spot.
Terry McMillen holds down the No. 12 spot with a 3.915, and the final of the 12 qualifying numbers that will transfer into Saturday's final two sessions.
Hight broke the 4.051 national record held by former Force team driver turned tuner Mike Neff with a sizzling 4.025, the sixth quickest pass in history, but it took all of the reigning world champ's handling skills to get it to the other end.
"That was probably the wildest run I’ve ever made," said Hight. "When I hit the gas it went to the inside. It had the front end in the air, and it shot towards the Christmas Tree and made the most unbelievable move. It was moving back and forth the whole way and usually when it makes moves like that it doesn’t stick. The next thing I saw the scoreboard light up. It just goes to show how good this race track is that it stuck on a run like that.
"Where was that 4.02 in the final last week in Chicago? I didn’t talk to Jimmy much before the run. I didn’t know what he was gonna try to run. Then when we ran that 4.02, I knew [Matt] Hagan was more than capable of making a better run or maybe Ashley [Force Hood]. A little surprised it held up.I used to come here for the Wednesday match races with John’s car and it was always a lot of fun. Tonight reminded me a lot of that"
Team boss John Force, who was alongside Hight's pass with a brilliant 4.037 of his own 911th quickest ever) is qualified No. 2 in the backyard of major sponsor Castrol.
Jeff Arend's great season continues as the DHL Toyota driver posted a 1,000-foot career best of 4.075 for the No. 3 spot. Matt Hagan, last weekend's Chicago winner and the new national record holder, was not able to get down the track and slipped to the No. 4 spot with his first-session-leading 4.119.
The top eight is rounded out by Bob Tasca III ((4.121), Tim Wilkerson (4.145), Ron Capps (4.155), and Ashley Force Hood (4.164).
Dale Creasy Jr. holds the No. 12 spot with a 4.613.
Edwards, the No. 1 qualifier in eight of the season's first 10 events, is on pace for No. 9 after blasting to a track-record 6.513, the second quickest pass in Pro Stock history bettered only by his own national record 6.509 from last year's Virginia event) to put the cap on a spectacular qualifying session. Edwards, last year's runner-up, has never won this event in two final-round appearances.
It helped being in the pack of the session because conditions just dropped so fast," said Edwards who, as the first-session leader (6.550) got to run last in the second session. "I think it dropped 600 feet [of corrected altitude] between the time we left the trailer and when we got up there. Any time you get conditions like this and the track is just awesome, you can make a good run like that. If we had made that perfect of a run at Richmond it would have gone 6.46 or 6.47. A .954 60-foot time is just incredible for these cars. We just swung for the fences and got away with one.
"My heart is real heavy for Neal Parker's family,"he added. "It's a tragic loss to have something that happen at one of our racetracks. My heart goes out to his family, and our thoughts and prayers are with them."
Vinnie Deceglie, who crashed at the season's second event, showed he's completely back and wowed the friends from his old haunts as the now-California based Dodge driver powered the Mountainview Tires Avenger to a career-best 6.548 for the No. 2 spot. Phoenix runner-up Bob Yonke, whose fallen on tough times lately, also showed that he's back in top form with a 6.558, good for the No. 3 spot. Jason Line rounds out the top four with a 6.560 from the Summit Pontiac.
Jeg Coughlin has the No, 5 position at 6.562 and the top eight is round out by Shane Gray and Kurt Johnson (both also at 6.562 but with slower speeds) and Greg Anderson (6.564).
If the top 12 rule were not in effect, this would be the quickest field in history as Allen Johnson's 6.576 is better than the old record bump of 6.590.
Phillips stunned everyone by taking optimum advantage of the great conditions to record a sizzling sub-record 6.855 at 197.16 mph, the fastest speed ever by a Suzuki. The e.t. is tied for the third quickest e.t. in class history and the speed is the standalone third fastest speed ever. The run also bettered the three-year-old 6.871 track record held by Angelle Sampey and the speed bettered Paul Gast's four-year-old 194.83 mark. Despite four career wins, Phillips has never been a No. 1 qualifier in his long career.
"We've been fighting this bike to get it to leave off the starting line and [Craig] Treble came over during the week and showed me a few things. He's real smart with the clutch; this is actually the bike out of his clutch that he ran here last year. We've always had big power but just haven't been to get it to run to the 330[-foot mark].I knew if we could run good to the 330 we could break the record. The weather's supposed to get pretty crappy tomorrow so I'm not sure we're going to be able to back it up though.
"I was expecting about a 6.86, but it snapped me pretty good off the line and when I grabbed second gear I said, 'Man, this thing's hauling,' and when I got to third it was, 'Oooh, this thing is going fast.' I tucked in pretty tight and made sure my head was out of the wind. I knew it was a good run,"
Hector Arana, who struggled to a 7.09 on his first pass and had been bumped out of the top 12 by the time he ran, zoomed his Lucas Oil Buell to the No. 2 spot with a 6.869 while Chicago runner-up Steve Johnson also impressed with his Suzuki with a 6.893 at a fast 196.27 mph for the No. 3 position.
Matt Smith and first-session leader Karen Stoffer are Nos. 4 and 5 after identical 6.901s, with the higher seed going to Smith's Al-Anabi Buell based on a superior speed, 192.60 to 191.70. Andrew Hines is sixth with a 6.907, Chicago winner LE Tonglet seventh at 6.912, and Shawn Gann No. 8 at 6.908.
David Hope ended up in the No. 12 spot with a 7.009, the only non-six-second run in the top 12.
Ray Commisso raced to the qualifying lead in the NHRA Get Screened America Pro Mod Drag Racing Series portion of the event. Commisso powered his R2B2/ProCare Rx Camaro to a leading performance of 5.815 seconds at 250.64 mph to pace the 16-car field.
Commisso’s R2B2/ProCare Rx Camaro was in victory lane at the most recent Get Screened America Pro Mod Series event, in Atlanta, but it was Michael Gullqvist and not Commisso who drove it to Victory Lane. Commisso couldn’t attend the Atlanta event because he was home in Canada attending to family matters following the passing of his father.
But Commisso made a triumphant return to the track on Friday with the provisional No. 1 qualifying run.
"I’ve probably made 200 runs in that car this year, but that run there was nerve wracking for me. My dad passed away a month ago today. After I stuck the car in second gear, it gave me that quiver-shake it does when I’m on good run. I threw the chutes and it was a great relief. It was like I won the lottery," Commisso said.
"(Crew chief) Al Billes always takes a big swing. There’s no half-way with him, he’s not one to be cautious. He throws it down every time, and that’s what we’re here for. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t. Before I ran, Al put his head into the car and said, ‘I hopped this thing up, you’d better hang on.’ I knew I was going to be in for a good ride."
Houston winner and second-place-in-points Danny Rowe was second in qualifying with a 5.848 at 249.26 in his Sterling Bridge ’68 Camaro, and just behind him in the qualifying order were Mike Castellana (5.906, 240.55) and Troy Coughlin (5.921, 239.44).