Saturday's Scenes from Seattle
Saturday, August 06, 2011

News and views from the 
O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals
Last update: 6 p.m. PT
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The combination of the top names on the NHRA Full Throttle Series and relatively cool temperatures attracted a large number of fans to the 24th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals. The pit area was crowded between the Pro qualifying rounds, and spectators were able to meet and interact with their favorite drivers.

Longtime fan-favorite Herm Petersen was among several of the great racers of the past from the Northwest, along with competitors from other parts of the country, who were on hand to sign autographs for the attendees of this weekend’s Seattle national event.

There was plenty of activity in former Funny Car world champ Robert Hight’s pit Saturday morning while his Auto Club crew put the finishing touches on a new car after his Mustang blew a rear tire in Friday’s second session. Hight, who was runner-up here in 2005 as a rookie and set the still-standing track e.t. record in 2008 (4.056), came into the day not qualified.

Allen Johnson’s potent Dodge ’11 Avenger improved from a seventh-best 6.564 to a 6.543 in Saturday’s opening Pro Stock qualifying round to place him in the No. 4 position. A.J. already has three final-round appearances in Seattle to his credit with a victory over Tom Martino in the 2006 final and runner-up finishes to Dave Connolly in 2007 and Jason Line in 2008. Johnson was also the No. 1 qualifier here in 2009. 

Warren Johnson recorded a 6.569 in Saturday morning’s Pro Stock qualifying session that was fifth best of the round and good enough for the No. 9 position in the overall order. “The Professor” has quite a history at Pacific Raceways with four career national event victories and two runner-up finishes. W.J. also attended the first major race held at this facility, the inaugural NHRA Fallnationals in 1975, where he qualified fifth.

After clocking a third-best 3.849 on Friday, Antron Brown made the run off the weekend so far in Saturday’s first session with a Top Fuel track record 3.809 from his Matco Tools dragster. Brown, winner here in 2009 and runner-up last year, backed it up with 4.855 in the final session, and for the first time this season, he will start from the No. 1 spot on Sunday.

Although he didn’t improve on his 4.845 from Friday, Spencer Massey ran a solid 4.877 in Saturday’s first session and will start from the No. 3 spot. Massey, who began the three-race Western Swing with a win in Denver, is looking for his fourth win of the season and first in Seattle.

Funny Car points leader Mike Neff made his best run of the weekend in Saturday’s first session when he drove his Castrol GTX Mustang to a 4.134. A seven-time finalist and four-time winner this year, Neff will start No. 4.

 Last year’s championship runner-up Matt Hagan is the best placed of the three Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car drivers after qualifying in the No. 3 spot. Hagan ran a 4.155 in Saturday’s first session and a 4.117 in the second and was bettered only by Tim Wilkerson’s 4.109 and John Force’s 4.115.

Erica Enders saved her best for last; she bettered her previous 6.555 best with a 6.544 in Saturday’s Pro Stock final qualifying session with her ZaZa Energy Chevrolet Cobalt and moved from seventh to fifth in the process. This marks the seventh consecutive race in which Enders has qualified fifth or better.

After having to abort his first three runs because of traction problems, Shane Gray finally made a full pass with his Service Center ’09 GXP in Saturday’s last Pro Stock qualifying round with a 6.63 to put him 14th in the program. Gray said that something is amiss with the clutch and gearing but has yet to pinpoint the exact problem. His team backed off on the tune-up to ensure that the car would get down the track in the final session, but they know that they will have to step it up tomorrow when they face Mike Edwards in the first round.

Ronnie Humphrey, who qualified 6th in Sonoma after a subpar No. 15 showing in Denver, produced his second consecutive Pro Stock top-half qualifying performance with a seventh-best 6.553. It marked the sixth time this year that Humphrey has qualified his Genuine Hotrod Hardware ’09 GXP in the top half during his first season of running the full NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series schedule.

Reigning Top Fuel champ Larry Dixon waited until the final session to make his best run of the weekend, wheeling his Al-Anabi dragster to a 4.853, and will start from the No. 6 spot Sunday. Dixon, who has qualified in the top five of the field at 12 of this season’s races so far, is looking for his second win of the season and second in Seattle, where he won in 2003 driving for Don “the Snake” Prudhomme.

Countdown to the Championship playoff hopeful Dave Grubnic, who celebrated his 49th birthday Saturday, made his best run of the weekend in the final Top Fuel session with a 3.891, which was good for No. 7 spot. Grubnic came into the event in 10th place, just 10 points ahead of 11th-place Terry McMillen in the battle for the final playoff spot.

Two-time Funny Car world champ Tony Pedregon qualified in the quick half of the field for the first time this season, wheeling his Charter Communications Impala to a 4.190 best in Saturday’s final session. Pedregon, who scored his only win here in 2002, will start from the No. 8 spot in search of his first win in nearly two years.

 Despite smoking the tires in Saturday’s final session, two-time defending Funny Car event champ Tim Wilkerson held on to the No. 1 spot after running a 4.109 earlier in the day. It is the first No. 1 of the season for Wilkerson and 16th of his career.