Cory McClenathan, Cruz Pedregon, Greg Anderson, and Andrew Hines are the provisional leaders following the opening day of action at the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at zMax Dragway in Charlotte.
The event is the second in the six-race Countdown to the Championship that will determine the champions in the four Full Throttle categories. Playoff race No. 2 turned into an extended affair after several oildowns in the first Top Fuel qualifying session and a couple in the second Funny Car session pushed the end time to 9:20 p.m., well after the original 8 p.m. target. The wait was worth it, however, as it provided good nighttime conditions for improved performance and, of course, visible header flames that are a staple of night nitro racing.
McClenathan, the No. 2 points man, gained ground on leader Larry Dixon when he was able to power his special-edition Valvoline/Fram entry to a 3.831 to place his name in the top slot on the Top Fuel ladder. The run just edged Antron Brown, who posted a 3.832 as the first driver down the track in the night session. McClenathan, who is fighting the flu this weekend, is seeking his fifth No. 1 this year and 38th of his career.
“Have I told you how much I love zMax Dragway lately?” McClenathan, who won this event last year and the four-wide race in March, asked rhetorically. “Tony [Schumacher] made a good run in the early session, and [Larry] Dixon and we both missed it. We were a little overzealous, but we backed it up and went A to B. When it hikes up the front end at halftrack going 278 [mph], it's gettin' it.
“Phil [Shuler] and Todd [Okuhara] are such opposites that they work great together as co-crew chiefs. Phil just wants to throw the whole trailer at it, while Todd is well thought out. We probably did about half of what Phil wanted, and it made a great lap. It nosed over at the end when it got on the rev limiter or else it could have been even faster."
Brandon Bernstein also ran 3.83, a 3.839 to be exact, to land behind McClenathan and Brown. Dixon, who went without a single qualifying bonus point Friday, enters Saturday fourth in the order with a 3.846. Tony Schumacher led after the first session with a 3.866, but he lost traction in the night session and slipped to fifth. T.J. Zizzo (3.867), Doug Kalitta (3.879), and Rod Fuller (3.893) round out the top eight.
Troy Buff’s 4.128 is the 12th and final time that will transfer into Saturday. Nineteen Top Fuelers have made the trip to Charlotte, meaning there will be a battle to break into the field on Saturday. Among the drivers fighting to get in the show are teammates Morgan Lucas and Shawn Langdon and hometown hero Doug Herbert.
While much of the focus during the day was on the Countdown contenders, one of the non-Countdowners ended up stealing the spotlight in Funny Car. Pedregon, who missed this year’s playoffs, powered his Snap-on entry to a 4.078 in the evening session to grab the top spot heading into Saturday. This would be the first No. 1 this year and 39th of Pedregon’s career should his time hold through Saturday’s two sessions.
“It was an odd scenario, because we blew up on both runs,” said Pedregon, whose last No. 1 start came at this event last year. “We had an issue with a rod cap being put in backwards, and it broke a rod four seconds into the last run. I didn't think the time would hold as No. 1 for that reason, because there was more out there. It's nice to know we're turning the knobs the right way. I hope it gets hotter than blazes tomorrow so the 4.07 holds.
“Even though we're not in the Countdown, I told Dave Rieff from ESPN that we're going to race like we're in the Countdown; the car doesn't know any better. It would be nice to get a couple final rounds and maybe win a race or two before the year is over.”
John Force, whose day began with a disqualification of his first run after the body of his Castrol GTX Mustang was too low when he went through post-run inspection, rebounded nicely with a 4.081 that has his second on the sheets. Bob Tasca III is the third-ranked driver with a 4.109, and he is followed by Jeff Arend (4.115), Del Worsham (4.123, 306.67), Jack Beckman (4.123, 305.36), Melanie Troxel (4.132), and Ron Capps (4.149). First-session leader Ashley Force Hood was unable to improve on her earlier 4.151, and she slipped to ninth.
Paul Lee, who is riding high after his first-round triumph over Robert Hight in Indy, continues to make consistent runs down the track in Jim Dunn’s Candiae car, and he enters Saturday as part of the qualified field after posting a 12th-best 4.190. The aforementioned Hight is among the drivers who need to make a representative run Saturday to officially qualify. Also on the list are Matt Hagan, Tony Pedregon, and Tim Wilkerson, all of whom are Countdown contenders.
Racing at their home track, Summit teammates Anderson and Jason Line were the stars of Pro Stock on the opening day in Charlotte. Line paced the opening session with a 6.633, and Anderson was best of the second session, and the day, with a 6.624 that has him in good position to claim career No. 1 74 and his first of the 2010 campaign.
“I haven’t ever been in the press room at zMax Dragway,” said Anderson. “I’ve seen it from the outside but not the inside until now. I can’t think of a better place to be than here. I love it. I wanted to be able to show what we can do and make a few of my friends and family proud. They’re all here this weekend, and, to be honest, I’ve been embarrassed before this. I don’t know why, but I just haven’t quite found the handle on this track. We went back to an old car for this race. We just felt like we needed to shake things up. We’ve been a little bit off, but this car is now working flawlessly.
“We’ve got the Summit cars in first, third, and fourth here with mine, Jason’s and my brother-in-law Ronnie [Humphrey], and we need to hold on to it. We need a big weekend in the points. We need to make up some ground on Mike Edwards and get back in the game. This is absolutely the time to pick up points.”
Reigning Full Throttle world champ Mike Edwards is sandwiched between the Summit teammates with a 6.633 that was two-thousandths better than Line’s early run; Line ran another 6.63 in the evening session, but it was .004-second behind his earlier attempt. Anderson and Line’s quasi-teammate Ronnie Humphrey is next in the order with a 6.637, followed by the returning Dave Connolly and Ron Krisher, both of whom matched Humphrey’s 6.637 but were slower (208.71 for Humphrey to the 208.65 of Connolly and 208.52 of Krisher). Allen Johnson (6.644) and Shane Gray (6.646) round out the provisional top half.
Jeg Coughlin Jr.’s 6.656 is the final time that will transfer into Saturday. There are some big names on the list of racers who will need to race into the field on Saturday, including Indy champion Greg Stanfield, whose 6.663 best ranked 15th. Also on the outside, Larry Morgan, Vinnie Deceglie, Warren and Kurt Johnson, and Bob Glidden, who is once again behind the wheel of Jim Cunningham’s Mustang.
It may be two weeks later and a different venue, but the trends from the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Lucas Oil continued in Pro Stock Motorcycle with Indy finalists, Hines and rookie-of-the-year frontrunner/Indy champ LE Tonglet, showing the way. Hines swept the qualifying bonus points in Indy, and he is on pace to repeat here after he led both of Friday’s sessions. After opening the day with a 6.94 from his Screamin’ Eagle/Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson, Hines bettered the run with a 6.913 that edged Tonglet’s 6.917 for the top spot. Should it hold, this would be Hines’ 29th career No. 1 and his third this year.
“We’ve never run good here at zMax, but the starting line is very good,” said Hines . “We ran a good number, especially early in the run where we’ve been struggling. LE [Tonglet] was also good, but we were able to make up ground on him. I saw LE run a 6.91, but I knew my bike was right there with his. I must have been thinking about it because I didn’t roll in deep. As soon as I staged, I got on the throttle. I wanted every bit of e.t. that I could get.
We had a bad tire at Indy. We changed it after we ran 6.81, and it wasn’t as good. We had to made adjustments, and that cost us the race. We put a fresh tire on it here and we had to adjust again, going in the opposite direction, but we made progress. I’m proud of our guys. We’ve got all our V-Rod bullets in order, and I’ve had the quickest e.t. in the last seven [qualifying rounds]. Every point is crucial. We saw that last year with Eddie [Krawiec]. Hector made up a lot of ground in qualifying, and he lost the championship by two points. We’re steamrolling now, and we want to get every point possible.”
Behind Hines and Tonglet, who has top speed so far at 193.16, is Hines’ teammate, Eddie Krawiec at 6.941. Karen Stoffer, whose GEICO Suzuki wouldn’t fire for her second run, is fourth with a 6.953 from the earlier session. Rounding out the quick eight are Jim Underdahl (6.994), Hector Arana (7.003), Craig Treble (7.005), and Angie Smith (7.013).
Smith’s husband, Matt, struggled on both of his attempts, running a best of 7.056 that has him in the 12th and final transfer spot. Among the riders who enter Saturday not qualified is top 10 runner David Hope, whose struggles from Indy have carried over here; his best run was a 7.123 that was 14th best.
Brad Personett led the field following two rounds of qualifying for the Get Screened America Pro Mod Drag Racing Series at the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals.
Personett, who sits fifth in the points, was able to take his Big Stuff 1968 Camaro to the top of the pack with a time of 5.843 seconds at 249.26 mph.
Holding down the number two qualifying position was Rick Stivers in his Brad Anderson tuned 2006 Dodge Stratus with a pass of 5.941 seconds at 241.97 mph.
"The amazing thing about that run," said Stivers after catching his breath, "is that there's even more left in her. It spun and shook a little, and I had to pedal it to keep it going straight - but, I'll take that '94 right now. I think Brad was even impressed with my driving on that run, and I'll tell you, it's hard to get that man to smile."
Current point’s leader in the category, Von Smith and his Dr. Moon / Al-Anabi 1968 Camaro, sits in the third spot with a pass of 5.942 seconds at 244.52 mph. Smith has three wins this season and leads the second place racer in the category by 74 points.
The Gets Screened America Pro Mod Drag Racing Series racers will get one more qualifying session at 11 a.m. on Saturday with first round of eliminations to start at 3 p.m.