ROCKINGHAM, NC - The curtain-closer for the International Hot Rod Association's (IHRA) 11-race Summit Drag Racing Series is becoming quite an eye-opener, with the quickest qualified field ever in Pro Modified set on Saturday during the second annual CARQUEST Autumn Nationals, at Rockingham Dragway.

Australian-born Troy Critchley, already a winner this year on the circuit in Epping, NH, held the top position after Saturday's initial round, clocking his and car-owner Johnny Rocca's season best at a 6.229-second elapsed time and 226.20 mph, behind the wheel of the crowd-pleasing "Ironhorse" '49 Mercury.

It was also the Leesburg, Va.-based team's second quickest pass ever. Last year, a 6.227-second pass by Critchley stood as a then-IHRA elapsed time world record.

However, today's mark fell to second best by nightfall, as troubles on the USA Racing Team's final pass relegated the proverbial pole position to current point leader, Fred Hahn, of Rochester, NY, at a 6.212 and 232.55.

Across the board, the numbers were impressive, with the slowest machine in the 16-car field being a 6.381 by nitrous oxide competitor, Ed Hoover, of Columbia, SC

"We picked the wheels up, the car went straight to the wall, and Troy had to lift," said Rocca in recounting the last qualifying run.

"It was on the edge of raining this evening, and we really weren't looking for the car to do that much," he further explained.

"It just got beat up on the launch - and didn't go straight."

Still, the qualified effort erases some of the team's frustration suffered earlier in the year at Rockingham, as Rocca's supercharged "Ironhorse" failed to make the field during the IHRA's previous visit to the historic quarter-mile facility.

Since then, the team has had a roller coaster season; running well, being saddled by numerous IHRA rule restrictions aimed at slowing down the supercharger vehicle's perceived advantage, only to charge from as far back as seventh to third in the Summit Drag Racing Series point chase. Their season also included a first-ever IHRA national event victory and runner-up finish, at aforementioned Epping and Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada, respectively.

At this weekend's final event, Critchley currently sits fourth in the standings, behind Hahn, plus the nitrous oxide vehicles of brothers Quain and recent national event winner, Mitch Stott, of Inman and Spartanburg, SC.

Nevertheless, the close point separation could allow the '49 Mercury to make a surging move forward toward the final standings.

"We are able to run pretty consistently," Rocca said. "I look for the nitrous cars to fall back into the 6.30s. And, if they do, then I think we'll be in a good position.

"I'd also like to see two blown cars in the final round," he continued.

" I think that if we can just get out there and run our program, and not do anything silly, we can win this thing."

Final elimination rounds for the season-ending CARQUEST Autumn Nationals get under way at 12 Noon on Sunday.