NHRA Story
Dixon, Force Hood, Coughlin, Johnson lead Norwalk's opening-day fields
Friday, June 25, 2010

by Phil Burgess, National DRAGSTER Editor


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Larry Dixon, Ashley Force Hood, Jeg Coughlin Jr., and Steve Johnson are the low qualifiers after the opening day of Full Throttle qualifying at the 4th annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk.

The day was prolonged by a trio of crashes, two by cars in the Get Screened America Pro Mod series, including series sponsor Roger Burgess, and one in Pro Stock. Thanks to NHRA’s strict safety rules neither Burgess, fellow Pro Mod pilot Tony Pontieri, nor Pro Stock veteran Bob Benza were injured in the incidents.

Racing for the day which was scheduled to end by 9:30 p.m., did not complete until 11:30 p.m., setting the stage for great performances under the lights in the cooling air.

Larry Dixon

Points leader Larry Dixon is on track for the fourth No. 1 qualifying spot of the year with the Al-Anabi Racing dragster after a sizzling 3.780 that leads the Top Fuel field halfway through qualifying. His e.t. is a new track record and his speed on the pass, 320.43, set the other end of the track standard.

"That was a great run by the Al-Anabi team," said Dixon, who was the No. 1 qualifier at the events in Houston, Atlanta, and Chicago this season, all of which he went on to win. "You have to bring it on Friday night to get the pole or to even get close to it. We looked at the computer data after the run, and we definitely got all of it. There wasn't much left.
 
"I'm still learning to drive this car. That was a really nice run. It's normally a handful on really good runs. It had a lot of grip tonight, though."

Antron Brown, the low qualifier at last weekend’s event in Bristol with the Matco Tools entry is a close second behind Dixon with a 3.795. Brandon Bernstein, runner-up here the last two years, is third with the Copart/Lucas Oil machine with a 3.848. Counting father Kenny’s runner-up at the inaugural event here, a Bernstein has been in a final round all three years. Resurgent Bob Vandergriff Jr. is an impressive fourth with the C&J Energy Services dragster after clocking a 3.872.

Cory McClenathan (3.889), Doug Foley (3.896), David Grubnic (3.898), and Morgan Lucas (3.904) round out the top eight. McClenathan clinched his spot in the Countdown to 1 with his opening qualifying pass.

Steve Torrence sits in the all-important No. 12 spot with Dexter Tuttle’s SIMple Mobile machine with a 3.950. Nineteen dragsters made passes today meaning there will be a fight Saturday for the top 16 berths.

Ashley Force Hood

A John Force Racing Ford Mustang has been the No. 1 qualifier in Funny Car all three years at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals and this year is no exception as Force Hood has the pole halfway through qualifying after running a track record 4.032 in her Castrol GTX Mustang. Teammate Robert Hight was No. 1 in 2007 and 2008 and Mike Neff topped the field last year. Force Hood’s time was a career best and the ninth quickest in class history. If it holds up for the top time it will be her third No. 1 of the season and the 12th of her career.

“The track really was perfect conditions, and everybody knew that going up there,” said Force Hood. “We were really excited that we got to run later in the pack, and we wanted to take advantage of it. It was our best run that we ever made. It felt really good. I am surprised that [Matt] Hagan and Robert [Hight] didn’t go around me. When I saw their flames going right down the track as we were towing back, I was like, ‘If they’re going all the way down, they’re doing it,’ but we managed to hang onto it.

“As exciting as it is to run like this, you don’t want to lose your train of thought and forget that it’s the day runs that are really going to help you Sunday. Being No. 1 qualifier going into a race really is what everybody wants to do. You get more confidence if you’re going into race day and you’re making good runs.”

Force Hood’s run was one of a flurry of 4.0-second passes in the cool conditions. Two-time season winner Matt Hagan’s DieHard Dodge is second at 4.043, while Schumacher Racing teammates Jack Beckman and Ron Capps, with John Medlen now calling the shots on his NAPA Auto Parts Charger, sit third and fifth at 4.060 and 4.069 sandwiched around Hight’s fourth-ranked 4.067. Del Worsham’s 4.087 for sixth spot was the final 4.0 pass, but recent Englishtown winner  Bob Tasca III (4.110) and Paul Lee in Jim Dunn’s Canidae/Lucas Oil Impala (4.124) are right there to fill out the first eight slots.

Jeff Arend’s 4.23 in the Kalitta Motorsports DHL Solara is in the No. 12 spot.

Jeg Coughlin

Homestate hero Coughlin is the No. 1 qualifier after two of four Pro Stock sessions after cranking out a 6.592 with his JEGS.com Cobalt as he seeks his second No. 1 berth of the season and his first since the Charlotte event in late March.

“We made some good runs today,” said Coughlin, who opened the day with a 6.65. “As the track was getting cooler and the sun was going down and that full moon was blaring its head out there, the crew chiefs were back in the pits changing the Pro Stock cars. You could hear the air wrenches flying and just a lot of changes for tonight. The key to tonight was keeping the car in the center of the groove, and really, that’s something we’ve struggled with the car, but the last four or five races, we’ve got the car running extremely straight and pretty efficient. That was key tonight, and we were able to be the only car in the 6.5s, which was stellar.

“This certainly gives us a little shot in the arm, heading into the $50,000-to-win K&N Horsepower Challenge. It’s a best of the best shootout. We’ve got a tough road to hoe without question, but today’s run certainly helps us get in the right mindset for tomorrow.”

Allen Johnson, the No. 1 qualifier a week ago in his homestate of Tennessee at the Bristol event, is No. 2 with a 6.602 at 209.30 mph, which is a new track speed record.

Ron Krisher’s Valvoline Cobalt is qualified No. 3 with an identical 6.602, but his slightly slower speed of 209.17 relinquished the higher spot to Johnson. Warren Johnson, whose K&N Filters GXP earned the fan vote to participate in Saturday’s K&N Horsepower Challenge, is thanking them for their support with a strong fourth-place effort of 6.609 that is far and away his best ranking of the season.

Jason Line, V. Gaines, and Bob Yonke sits fifth through seventh with identical elapsed times of 6.620, but their respective top speeds of  208.62, 208.17, and 207.85 decided their positions. Johnny Gray’s NTB Pontiac rounds out the top eight with a 6.623/

Another homestate favorite,  two-time event runner-up Larry Morgan, holds down the 12th and final time that will transfer into Saturday’s qualifying after netting a 6.636 with this Lucas Oil/Summit Mustang.

Reigning world champ Mike Edwards, who has qualified No. 1 at nine of 12 events this season, will enter Saturday in the unfamiliar position of having to bump his way into the field after finishing the day in 14th. As a testament to the improving conditions of the delayed day, Edwards’ 6.641 led the first session of the day but when he shook the tires on his evening pass, his position plummeted.

Steve Johnson

Veteran rider Johnson is halfway to what would be his first No. 1 qualifying effort of the season aboard his Lincoln Tech Suzuki after charting a 6.929 at 193.60 to break both ends of the track record and would be just the second of his long career. His only other pole came more than 15 years ago, at the 1995 event in Atlanta.

“The conditions are awesome,” said Johnson. “We didn’t want to make another run because we’re on a major budget program and it was going to be hot, but with the situations that had been happening on the track, it got cooler and cooler and cooler, and it was like, ‘Hey, there’s probably going to be a better run,’ plus your first run isn’t going to be your best run. The track’s great, the weather conditions were better, and we had a good tune-up in the motorcycle to make a great run.

“Dave Schultz used to say enough pennies make a dollar, and all we’re trying to do is make sure we use everything we’ve got in the motorcycle. Tim [Kulungian, chief mechanic] is making the right clutch calls. He’s making the right tune-up calls with the jets, the right timing changes, and all the things it wants. The more you learn about it, the more things that you see that you don’t know that need to be fixed, and he’s learning that, so now the little pennies are starting to add up. Before there were only 50 pennies. Now, there’s 100 pennies, and when you get 100 pennies, or even 90, you get a fast motorcycle because you’re doing all these details.”

Reigning Full Throttle champ Hector Arana, who scored his first career win at this track just two years ago, sits No. 2 aboard his Lucas Oil Buell after posting a 6.953. Andrew Hines, who won the inaugural event here in 2007 and also is th defending champ, has his Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson in the third spot with a 6.959 while Karen Stoffer Geico Suzuki is fourth at 6.973,

Angie Smith is a season-high fifth with the Coffman Tank Trucks Buell at 6.973, just a tick ahead of her husband Matt’s Al-Anabi Racing Buell at 6.974. Eddie Krawiec, runner-up here last year to Harley teammate Hines sits seventh at 6.982 and Jim Underdahl’s Suzuki Extended Protection entry rounds out the top eight at 6.993.

Craig Treble, the 2008 event runner-up to Arana, holds down the No. 12 spot with a 7.052.

Raymond Commisso raced to the qualifying lead Friday in the NHRA Get Screened America Pro Mod Drag Racing Series.

Commisso, who failed to get his ’68 Camaro down the track in the day’s first qualifying session, covered the quarter-mile distance at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park in 5.910 seconds at 248.20 mph in the second session to take the top spot in the 16-car field.

“I do feel fortunate to be the No. 1 qualifier,” Commisso said. “It will probably stay that way because the final round of qualifying will be in the sunshine so it shouldn't be as quick. I know every time I step off the clutch in my racecar that I can go to the No. 1 spot. We have the horsepower and the people to get it done.”

The second qualifying session was interrupted by two spectacular crashes. Pontieri’s ’68 Camaro went out of control and impacted the guardwall and crashed, as did Roger Burgess’ ’63 Corvette, which also hit the wall and barrel-rolled before coming to an upright stop. Both drivers were checked and released at the track.

“It's always a little tough when you see two of your fellow racers, two of your friends, wreck their cars,” Commisso said. “It kind of takes the excitement out of being No. 1 tonight. Thank God they're OK. Credit the NHRA Safety Safari, the guys that build these race cars, and all the safety equipment we wear.”

Melanie Troxel was second in her new In-N-Out ’67 Camaro with a 5.940 at 245.40. Three-time tour winner and current series points leader Von Smith was third in his Al-Anabi Racing/Dr. Moon ’68 Camaro with a 5.951 at 245.05. Veteran racer Pat Musi, who topped the first session in his ’09 Dodge Stratus, moved to fourth with his performance of 5.961 at 229.98.