Sunny skies and track temps over 120 degrees prevented drivers from making big performance gains during day two of the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway, and that was good news for Cory McClenathan (Top Fuel), Ashley Force Hood (Funny Car), and Mike Edwards (Pro Stock), who stayed in the No. 1 position in their respective classes.
McClenathan enters race day as the No. 1 qualifier for the first time this season and the 33rd time in his career. Force Hood now has two No. 1 starts this year — she was also the top qualifier in Atlanta — and five overall. In eight races this year, Edwards has started No. 1 at half of them, also leading the pack in Phoenix, Gainesville, and Las Vegas. Edwards has qualified no worse than fourth all year with an average start of No. 2.
The warmer conditions meant McClenathan’s 3.874 from Friday was never in jeopardy on Saturday. Most teams struggled throughout the day with just three three-second runs recorded all day. McClenathan was among the teams who struggled, mustering a best of just 4.913 from his Fram Tough Guard dragster on his two attempts.
“I’ll definitely take that No. 1, but at the same time, tomorrow is the most important; we need to go rounds,” said McClenathan. “That’s the one thing this Fram Top Fuel dragster has been able to do this year is go rounds. We’ve been in two finals. We’ve not won a race yet with this car, but it has been consistent. I think the Fram Tough Guard guys have done a great job with that.
“Consistency is everything to me. Our car has been very consistent. That’s what Todd [Okuhara] and Phil [Shuler, crew chiefs] and the guys have really done for me this year. They’ve given me a car that no matter what racetrack we go to, we may not be the quickest car all the time but we’re always right in the hunt with everybody and it does go A to B. I’m in a really good comfort zone because I know this car is going to run good all the time.”
Brandon Bernstein remained second on the strength of his 3.875 from Friday. Last year’s winner Tony Schumacher begins his title defense from the third position, and Larry Dixon, who ran low e.t. of Saturday with a 3.923, is fourth. Shawn Langdon, Clay Millican, Antron Brown, and Doug Herbert round out the top half of the field.
Surprisingly, rookie of the year contender Spencer Massey, who qualified No. 1 and went to the final in Atlanta, failed to make the field in Bristol. Massey’s U.S. Smokeless team ran a best of 4.302 Saturday that fell way short of the 4.191 that Michael Gunderson clocked to secure the 16th and final position in the field. Chris Karamesines also did not qualify.
Ashley Force Hood
Force Hood’s 4.105 from Friday easily held through the final two qualifying sessions with Bob Tasca III’s 4.181 standing as the best run of Saturday. As was the case in Top Fuel, many of the Funny Car teams struggled in the sunny, warm conditions, including Force Hood, whose Castrol GTX Mustang did not make it downtrack under power on either pass.
“I haven’t talked to ‘Guido’ [crew chief Dean Antonelli], but they never said anything to me about doing anything drastically different,” said Force Hood. “I’m sure they were pushing it a little more because they’ve got to see what the track will take, but it’s supposed to be colder tomorrow. I don’t know what happened on the last run. I asked my husband, ‘Was it me? Did I do something?’ He said, ‘No. It just didn’t do what we wanted it to.’ But that’s part of qualifying, to see what the track will take and what it won’t take, and I’m sure tomorrow they’ll pull it back a little if conditions are the same.”
Tim Wilkerson remains second thanks to the 4.109 he clocked Friday. Del Worsham is third, followed by Matt Hagan, Ron Capps, Cruz Pedregon, John Force, and Tasca. Andy Kelley will make his first Sunday start of ’09 after running a best of 4.633 that anchors the 16-car field. Kelley draws Force Hood in the opening round. Also in round one, Force takes on Jack Beckman in one of the best pairings of the round in any of the Professional classes.
In one of the biggest shockers of qualifying so far this year, perennial title contender Robert Hight was the lone driver who did not qualify. After not getting a run on Friday night due to mechanical problems, Hight had a trouble-filled Saturday, posting a best of 5.229 that left him on the outside of the field.
“I know it’s frustrating for those guys and we feel for them because we’ve all been in that situation,” said Force Hood of her teammate's plight. “Funny Car is such a competitive category, and it’s great that it’s like that, but when you’re on the outside looking in, it’s tough. But they’re doing exactly what they need to do. They’re bummed, but they’re looking forward. They’re working with our other teams and they’re staying positive, and that’s the only way to come out of it. My dad’s been through it, and he’s won more championships than anybody, so if anyone can give them advice, it’s him.”
Edwards enters Sunday’s eliminations as the favorite in Pro Stock after nabbing the No. 1 spot with his 6.698 from Friday and running low e.t. of both qualifying sessions Saturday with back-to-back 6.73s from his Young Life/A.R.T. GXP.
There was no movement in the top 12 with the 12 drivers who secured a spot in the field Friday maintaining their positions. Points leader and reigning world champion Jeg Coughlin will start race day from the No. 2 spot, followed on the ladder by Greg Anderson, Greg Stanfield, Jason Line, Allen Johnson, Ron Krisher, and Rodger Brogdon.
“Tomorrow is a different day, but we have made some really good runs here,” said Edwards. “My guys, I can’t say enough about them. They’ve done an awesome job here this weekend. They’ve worked really well together and made all the right adjustments. It’s a pretty tricky track, and they’ve really done a good job and I’m really proud of them. Like I said before, I just want to give God all the glory because I’m truly blessed to be here living the dream.
“I think I have as good of a chance as anybody [tomorrow]. I’ve struggled a little bit on Sunday with my driving, but hopefully, I can turn that around and make this a great weekend for us.”
Johnny Gray, Justin Humphreys, Ronnie Humphrey, and David Beckley raced into the field Saturday, securing the 13th through 16th spots, respectively. After qualifying for every race except Pomona, where qualifying was limited to one session, Steve Spiess missed the field. He is joined on the sidelines by Dave Northrop, Bob Benza, Erica Enders, V. Gaines, and John Gaydosh Jr.
On Saturday, May 16, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 6 p.m. ET. On Sunday, May 17, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise NHRA Race Day presented by Lucas Oil, the 30-minute pre-race show, at 11 a.m. ET and three hours of eliminations at 7 p.m. ET.
Friday: McClenathan, Force Hood, Edwards pace provisional fields in Bristol