Hot and muggy weather Saturday held performances down at the 41st annual NHRA SuperNationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, and Friday leaders Cory McClenathan (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock), and Michael Phillips (Pro Stock Motorcycle) maintained their spots.
While the others are veterans of the No. 1 spot, Phillips' pole position is the first of his career. Interestingly enough, none of the four low qualifiers has been No. 1 in the field at this event before and none has ever won this prestigious event, which is known for its unpredictable and wild finishes.
No one came close to McClenathan's all-time class-best 3.752 from Friday, placing Cory Mac and the Fram dragster No. 1 for the fourth time this season and the 37th time in his career. By virtue of a short field of 15 cars, he'll get a bye in round one to tune up for the opposition, which includes No. 3 qualifier Larry Dixon, who had the best run of both sessions Saturday and was one of the few to improve his Friday position.
"I expected Larry to be right there with us, [Tony] Schumacher, too," said McClenathan, "and I expect to have to go toe to toe with them tomorrow, too. The playing field is really level; there's a lot of parity out there now. it's not just four good cars anymore – there's six, seven, eight good cars. Anyone who qualifies can win.
"We know it's hot and had to dial it back a bit today, but we ran .81 this morning and I think it was going to repeat that on the afternoon run before it knocked the burst panel out. Tomorrow, with the bye run, if the conditions are right, I think you'll see us go for that national record."
Brandon Bernstein had the second session's second-best pass, a 3.860, showing that the Copart car means business and that his 3.807 No. 2 blast from Friday was for real. It's his season-best qualifying position and his fifth straight event in the top five. Behind Bernstein and Dixon's Al-Anabi car (3.814) is local favorite Antron Brown, who ran a 3.817 in the Matco Tools entry.
Behind the fast four are Steve Torrence with his career-best 3.819, Tony Schumacher (3.830), Shawn Langdon (3.835), and Doug Kalitta (3.853)
Hight, like the other Friday low qualifiers, remained atop his field based on his 4.025 to earn his fifth No. 1 this season and, like McClenathan, the 37th of his career. With just 15 cars in the field, he'll get a bye in round one, but after running low e.t. of the final session, he looks like he'd be ready regardless.
"That last run today [a best-of-session 4.138] was huge," said Hight. "This past week we took inventory of all of our parts and decided that we had just enough of our current batch of clutch parts to make it through the Countdown [playoffs], so we made the decision to set them aside for the Countdown. We put the new ones in yesterday and smoked the tires. We had one extra set of the old stuff for the night session and ran that 4.02, but committed then to only run the new stuff and figure it out. We smoked the tires the first session and then low e.t. of the session tonight, so that was big and gives Jimmy Prock something to tune on.
"Having a single tomorrow gives us another run to test, and I can tell you we'll go up there and make the best run possible. We have a backup for the national record, which is 20 points, so if it's cloudy and cool we can try to do it, but I can say I don't think we'll go up there and risk smoking the tires. We want togo down the track and have lane choice for the next round."
Hight's boss, John Force, remained No. 2, also on the strength of his Friday pass, a 4.037. Jeff Arend sits third with the Kalitta Motorsports/DHL Toyota at 4.075 and Tim Wilkerson fourth at 4.113 in the Levi, Ray, and Shoup Shelby.
The Team Schumacher Dodges of Ron Capps and Chicago winner Matt Hagan are Nos. 5 and 6 after identical 4.119 passes while Bob Tasca III, wearing his special-edition FordParts.com livery, and former world champ Cruz Pedregon, a two-time winner here, are seven and eight with respective passes of 4.121 and 4.126.
Although the day's warm and muggy conditions hurt the naturally aspirated Pro Stockers, Edwards made it nine No. 1 starts in the season's first 11 races by virtue of his Friday 6.513, which was never challenged. Edwards' Penhall Pontiac had the best run of the third session, a 6.579, but was just the third quickest in the afternoon session.
"We changed a lot of things on the car today – especially in that last session – to see if we could find anything, and we just missed it on that last pass,' he said. "The track was definitely hotter and the conditions for the worse, but now I'm hearing a chance of rain or cloud cover tomorrow, so everything we learned today will be out the window.
"We'll just race the race like we always do and do you job. If I do mine and the crew does theirs, our chances are good. If we don't, we won't win. There are too many good cars out there right now and we're all so close. It's down to who does the best job Sunday."
Vinnie Deceglie and his Avenger remained No. 2 with the quickest Dodge Pro Stock pass in history, a 6.548, making a nice birthday present for Mountainview Tire team owner Nick Mitsos. Bob Yonke stayed third with a 6.558 and Jason Line fourth with a 6.560.
The rest of the top eight is rounded out by Jeg Coughlin, Shane Gray, and Kurt Johnson (all at 6.563, Coughlin at 211 mph and the other two at 210) and Greg Anderson at 6.564.
Justin Humphreys ended up on the bump spot with a 6.633 and will provide Edwards' opening opposition Sunday morning.
Among those not making the field are Ron Krisher and Rickie Jones – fifth and 10th in points, respectively – setting the stage for some dramatic changes in the standings Sunday.
Like their four-wheeled brothers, the Pro Stock Motorcycles saw little improvement, and Phillips earned the first No. 1 qualifying berth of his career thanks to his dazzling Friday 6.855 aboard The Racers Edge Suzuki. The recent Madison winner still has a chance Sunday to reset the 6.847 national record, but the weather is not expected to cooperate, so he'll concentrate instead on getting his fifth career win.
"I'm just trying my best to ride that motorcycle and hit all my shifts and hope I can seal the deal tomorrow," said Phillips. "We knew today was going to be hot and slippery out there so we're trying some things in the clutch today.
"It's supposed to be hot tomorrow, but I'm from Louisiana where it's always hot and crappy, and I can make my bike run pretty good when the weather is bad."
The top portion of the qualifying ladder was mostly unchanged from Friday with world champ Hector Arana's Lucas Oil Buell remaining No. 2 at 6.869 just ahead of Steve Johnson's Suzuki, which stayed third at 6.893. Matt Smith, whose 6.951 was the best pass of the day's final qualifying session, remained fourth with his earlier 6.901, just ahead of Karen Stoffer's similar number.
Andrew Hines (6.907), Chicago champ LE Tonglet (6.921), and hometown favorite Eddie Krawiec (6.962) round out the top eight,
New Jersey's own Tom Micelli overcame braking problems Friday to qualify Shawn Gann's Suzuki on the bump spot with a 7.212.
Top qualifier Ray Commisso survived a close call in the first round of eliminations Saturday in the NHRA Get Screened America Pro Mod Drag Racing Series portion of the 41st annual NHRA SuperNationals.
Commisso was .043 behind at the tree against No. 16-qualifier Rickie Smith (.050 to .093) and he still trailed at 660 feet, but he delivered a 5.935 at 246.71 mph to catch and pass Smith (6.011, 237.38).
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.
Commisso will meet Pat Musi, who defeated Ed Hoover, in one of the four Sunday quarterfinal matchups. The other matchups are: Scott Ray vs. Von Smith, Danny Rowe vs. Kenny Lang, and Tony Pontieri vs. Mike Castellana.
Earlier Saturday, the field was set with the second and final round of qualifying and Commisso held on to the top spot when no one bettered his 5.815 at 250.64 mph from Friday night.
Houston winner and second-place-in-points 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 Castellana (5.906, 240.55) and Troy Coughlin (5.921, 239.44), who was upset by Smith in R1.
The final three rounds of Pro Mod eliminations will be completed on Sunday.
Friday: Cory Mac makes quickest-ever pass to lead SuperNationals qualifying