Friday’s leaders – Larry Dixon, Ashley Force Hood, Jeg Coughlin Jr., and Steve Johnson – all withstood the test of time Saturday and remained atop their fields heading into Sunday’s final eliminations at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk.
The event is the final of a tough stretch of four straight weeks of racing in June on the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series schedule. So far this month, racers have traveled to Chicago, Englishtown, and Bristol before heading to Norwalk. They’ll get a week off after this event, then hit it hard again with three straight weeks of racing on NHRA’s vaunted Western Swing through Washington state, California, and Colorado as the Countdown to the Championships regular season begins to wind down.
Dixon, who made the quickest runs of the second and fourth qualifying sessions, earned his fourth No. 1 of the season with the Al-Anabi dragster, which is certainly good news for the former world champ. On all three prior occasion this year when he was the top qualifier, Dixon went on to win the event.
"The Al-Anabi team did a great job today," said Dixon. "We ran a .87 on the first run and a .85 in Q4, which were good runs for the middle of the day. The forecast is the same for tomorrow with sun, heat, and humidity. We need to be prepared for anything.
"It's nice to be No. 1 qualifier out here, and that's all about hitting it right on Friday night. The Friday night session is something like a long ball contest in golf. We made it stick, but that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of other good cars going into eliminations tomorrow; we'll have to be able to put when we need to."
As was the case in each Pro class, changes in the top of the order were limited or non-existent. Steve Torrence made the biggest leap in Top Fuel, going from No. 12 Friday to No. 4 Saturday with a 4.861 to fall in line behind No. 2 man Antron Brown (3.795) and No. 3 qualifier Brandon Bernstein (3.848).
Bob Vandergriff Jr. (3.872), Cory McClenathan (3.887), Morgan Lucas (3.893), and Doug Foley (3.896) round out the top eight qualifiers. McClenathan will race Doug Kalitta for the eighth time in 13 events this season (including twice at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals). McClenathan holds a 4-3 advantage.
Reigning season champ Tony Schumacher is 12th and starting from the bottom half of the field for the first time this season. In 2007, he won the inaugural Norwalk event from the No. 14 position. Troy Buff nailed down the field’s final spot in the Bill Miller Racing/Okuma entry with a 4.067.
Ashley Force Hood
Rain late in the day ended the final qualifying session of Funny Car prematurely, assuring Force Hood will retain the No. 1 spot based on his Friday 4.032. It is Force Hood's second consecutive No. 1 qualifying position and the 12th of her career. Only seven cars ran in the final session, and the field was set for eliminations, and no cars were awarded bonus points during the final session.
“I was in my Castrol GTX Mustang belted up and ready to go and then the rain just started pouring," said Force Hood. "It surprised all of us. I think the locals all knew because someone said the stands cleared out before it started raining really hard. We were going to try and make another really strong run. In that heat I don’t think we would have been trying to improve too much on our time."
Her first-round opponent with be her father, John, who had been bumped out of the field by the time he came up to run but was one of the seven who did get to run and bumped in on his last run and sits in 16th spot for only the third time in his career. Their first round will be their 12th meeting since Force Hood entered the Funny Car division in 2007. Force has a 6-5 edge against his daughter.
“I just have a really good running car," she said. "We have had it all weekend long and we are excited to be going into race day feeling this confident. The car doesn’t know who is in the other lane whether it is Dad, my brother-in-law, my best friend, or someone you don’t like. It just doesn’t know the difference. That is how we race and especially when we race my dad. He talks so much and he is so involved, and I have a very different style than him. I do my own thing. I do think he tries to mess with me. I don’t think he does it on purpose, but he is constantly talking about everything to do with the runs. I want to tell him, ‘Dad you just do your thing you have been doing it for over 30 years. I’ll do my thing.’ Whoever has the best car will go on to the next round and most importantly whoever wins should go out and win the race.”
Cruz Pedregon was the only driver to bump into the quick eight Saturday, putting his Snap-on Toyota in the No. 8 spot with a 4.120. The rest of the top eight is unchanged from Friday with Matt Hagan (4.043), Jack Beckman (4.060), Robert Hight (4.067), Ron Capps (4.069), Del Worsham (4.087), and Bob Tasca III (4.110) in positions two through seven.
Jeg Coughlin Jr.
Although he struggled today, Coughlin remained in the No. 1 spot in Pro Stock with his Friday 6.592. The JEGS.com team changed the engines for the final session, but that did not fix the problem, and he coasted to a 20-second pass.
“It’s exciting to qualify No. 1 at any event, and in my career, there’s not been too many No. 1 qualifying efforts but we’ve had great success,” said Coughlin. “We’ll certainly take this No. 1 effort as it is. It’s a good effort. We’ll get the car fixed, and maybe we’ll come back and win the race tomorrow.
“That morning cloud cover and the cool conditions really made for an excellent track and a fast track, but it changed quite a bit for the second round of the K&N Horsepower Challenge. We struggled with what we thought was an engine problem. As soon as I let the clutch out, the car just immediately decelerated, and that’s not a good sign in drag racing. We changed engines for our final qualifying run and had the same problem, so obviously the problem lies elsewhere. I don’t know if we just missed something or what, but typically when you make a big change like that it fixes itself. It did not in this case, so we’ll go back and go through the fuel system 100 percent, go through the electronics and all the ignition system the rest of the way, and we’ll have a hot rod for tomorrow for the race.”
Allen Johnson’s Mopar Racing Avenger remained No. 2 with his Friday 6.602 and the rest of the top eight also remained unchanged. Behind the leaders are Ron Krisher (6.602), Warren Johnson (6.609), Jason Line (6.620), V. Gaines (6.620), Bob Yonke (6.620), and Johnny Gray (6.623),
Although he had the quickest run of both sessions Saturday, reigning season champ Mike Edwards, who has qualified No. 1 at nine of the season’s first 12 races, ended up in the No. 12 spot. This is the first time Edwards has qualified in the bottom half since Charlotte 2008.
Justin Humphreys ended up on the bump spot with a 6.679 and will face Coughlin in round one. Rickie Jones, who broke into the top 10 in points, experienced a setback in his bid to make the Countdown field when his 6.683 missed the field by one spot.
Although he sat out both qualifying sessions Saturday, Johnson was able to stay atop the field in Pro Stock Motorcycle for what is just the second No. 1 spot of his long career. His last No. 1 came at the Atlanta event in 1995.
“We sat out because we were No. 1 qualifier and we have a budget to deal with and we want to save parts,” said Johnson. “We’ve got a Vance & Hines engine that’s extremely strong. It’s a great engine, the best you can buy, but at the end of the day, we’ve only got one of them. The big focus now with the Full Throttle Series is just getting in the Countdown [to 1]. I hate leaving points. Not to be arrogant, but there’s three points every round, so that’s six points we left on the table today. I’ve never said anything like that because we never had a hot rod that’s been able to do that. Having said that, it’s about budget and having a strong motor for those last five races, so that’s why we sat out. The reality for me is we’re No. 1 and this is so cool for our team.
“We feel that Friday afternoon was like where we’re going to be on Sunday. We figure Sunday’s going to be a little worse than this. We’re going to start from scratch. Every day is starting from scratch. Tim’s confident that he can have a fast motorcycle, and as long as I can do my job, we can go rounds.”
Although Hector Arana and Andrew Hines both improved on their Friday times -- Hines was quickest of first session, Arana was best of final session -- both ended up in the same positions, with Arana No. 2 at 6.931 and Hines No. 3 at 6.934.
Matt Smith moved up to fourth with the Al-Anabi Buell after clocking a 6.957 and Michael Phillips and his Racers Edge Suzuki to sixth with a 6.971. Karen Stoffer (6.973, 193.74), Angie Smith (5.973, 190.19), and Eddie Krawiec (6.974) round out the top eight.
Wesley Wells ended up in the 16th spot with a 7.189 and will be Johnson’s first-round opponent Sunday.
Veteran drag racer Rickie Smith beat three-time NHRA Get Screened America Pro Mod Drag Racing Series winner and current points leader Von Smith in the first round of competition Saturday.
The upset –- Rickie was No. 14 and Von was No. 3 in the eliminations bracket -- was one of several notable upsets in the first round. No. 15 qualifier Brad Personett upset No. 2 Melanie Troxel, No. 11 qualifier Mike Castellana beat No. 6 Scott Ray, and No. 10 Danny Rowe took out No. 7 qualifier Joe Baker.
In other rounds, top qualifier Raymond Commisso beat Rick Stivers, Pat Musi outran Troy Coughlin, Burton Auxier beat Mike Knowles, and Ed Hoover beat Gainesville winner Kenny Lang.
Get Screened America Pro Mod Drag Racing Series eliminations continue Sunday at approximately 1 p.m.
Friday: Dixon, Force Hood, Coughlin, Johnson lead Norwalk's opening-day fields