Larry Dixon, Robert Hight, Mike Edwards and Craig Treble are the leaders following a long opening day of qualifying for the 13th annual United Association Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by Miller Welders at Route 66 Raceway in Chicago.
Several heavy thunderstorms interrupted action during the day limiting Pro racers to just one qualifying round. Following a gallant effort by the NHRA Safety Safari to dry the racetrack and prepare the racing surface, qualifying got underway at almost 9 p.m. local time and continued until almost midnight.
As the last nitro driver down the track, Al-Anabi driver Dixon unloaded the best run of the day with a 3.81 to nip Cory McClenathan, who had earlier run 3.82.
“Obviously we don’t know what weather will be like tomorrow, but I knew we needed to be sure that we were in the top 16 tonight,” said Dixon. “As the session went on, we saw what Cory [McClenathan] and Tony [Schumacher] ran and, AJ [team manager Alan Johnson] made a last minute adjustment because we thought the track would hold it. It was real smooth and nice. The scoreboards here are further down than some tracks, so I saw that .81 come up. I said to myself, ‘Hey we’re qualified.’ First and foremost, I’m happy about that.”
A total of eight drivers ran in the three-second zone, including Chicago native T.J. Zizzo, who is fifth with a 3.87 and Steve Torrence, who posted a 3.88 for the sixth spot. Doug Kalitta holds down the 12-car bump with a 4.54.
The tricky conditions and lack of track time posed a serious challenge for the Funny Car teams as few drivers made it to the finish line under power on Friday night, but Hight and crew chief Jimmy Prock had no such problems as they blew away the field with a 4.067 at 313.15 mph, thrilling the fans who remained in the stands late into the night. Hight is looking for his fourth pole of the season and second-straight after also claiming the top spot in Topeka.
“To do what we did tonight is unbelievable,” said Hight. “I don’t believe Jimmy [Prock] was trying to run that hard. All we needed was a mid-4-teen, but that run was as smooth as can be. We made a last-second change, rush the burnout, Jimmy was still in the [computer] box, but it worked. I knew it was going straight; it gets a little dark down there but it made it and it was a perfect run.
“This is awesome, especially after three wins. I had a week off to think about it, and I know it’s gonna end sometime. For now, it’s another three points, and no matter what happens tomorrow, I know I’m qualified.”
Heading into Saturday’s qualifying rounds, Hight has almost a tenth on No. 2 qualifier Matt Hagan, who posted a 4.14 and “Fast Jack” Beckman, who recorded a respectable 4.15 in his Valvoline/MTS Dodge. John Force is 12th with a shut-off 5.18, while Paul Lee, Del Worsham, Ashley Force Hood, Cruz Pedregon, Jack Wyatt, and Dale Creasy must all wait until Saturday to secure their spots.
Pro Stock qualifying was halted several times for light sprinkles but ultimately completed. By the time all 25 drivers had completed their runs, reigning world champ Edwards was once again at the front of the line with his Penhall/Interstate/K&N Pontiac. The last driver down the track, Edwards had made the best run of the evening with a 6.660. If his run holds up, Edwards will have claimed his eighth K&N low qualifier award in 10 events this season.
“This was tough on everybody, and my hat is off to the Safety Safari for getting the track so good,” said Edwards. “I think we came to the staging lanes three times, but we got the session in and hopefully tomorrow we’ll get two more runs. We were ready to go early today but had to wait a long time. You think you know what to expect, but on the first run, you are never 100 percent sure. I think we came pretty close though.”
Edwards’ run bumped Jeg Coughlin Jr. to the second spot, while Ron Krisher is third with his Valvoline Cobalt. Madison winner Warren Johnson is currently the 12th quickest in the field with a 6.719.
The top spot in Pro Stock Motorcycle changed hands several times before Treble grabbed the provisional pole. Treble, a two-time finalist at Route 66 Raceway, rode the Schumacher Racing Valvoline Motorcycle Oils Suzuki to a 6.960 to bump David Hope, who had earlier run 6.97, to second. The only other rider in the six-second zone is reigning NHRA Full Throttle world champion Hector Arana, who posted a 6.98 aboard his Lucas Oil Buell.
“I have not had a chance to see the download or go over the run with Steve [Tartaglia, crew chief], but it felt really good,” said Treble. “The bike nailed the 60-foot time and ripped through the gears pretty good. The conditions were not exactly stellar for world record e.t.s, but I’ll take it.
“I had a lot of time to mingle with the fans today. The bike was ready when we left the shop, and our whole team has been working hard on the bike since Atlanta. Steve has just about worn out a motor on the dyno. We blew up that engine in St. Louis and it seemed like we lost our combination. Now, I think we’re back where we should be. It’s nice to be No. 1 even for a day. I’m praying for that 90 percent chance of rain tomorrow.”
The current bump for the first 12 riders in the field is a 7.138 by rookie-of-the-year candidate LE Tonglet. Among the riders who will have to qualify in tomorrow’s two scheduled sessions is Karen Stoffer, who got close to the centerline and shut off early on her GEICO Suzuki, and Shawn Gann, who also did not make a clean run on Friday night.