Baytown: Friday qualifying report

MEDLEN RECEIVES TRIBUTE AS NHRA RETURNS TO COMPETITION AT O'REILLY SPRING NATIONALS Bazemore, Cruz Pedregon, Coughlin and Matt Smith earn provisional No. 1 qualifying positions BAYTOWN, Texas -- Nineteen-year Funny Car veteran Whit Bazemore ...

MEDLEN RECEIVES TRIBUTE AS NHRA RETURNS TO COMPETITION AT O'REILLY SPRING NATIONALS

Bazemore, Cruz Pedregon, Coughlin and Matt Smith earn provisional No. 1 qualifying positions

BAYTOWN, Texas -- Nineteen-year Funny Car veteran Whit Bazemore is turning out to be a quick study in Top Fuel as he raced to the provisional No. 1 spot in just his fourth race in the class, posting a 4.514 at 326.87 mph to lead Friday qualifying at the O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals presented by Pennzoil.

Racing stopped momentarily during the first round of Funny Car qualifying when the spot that would have been reserved for Eric Medlen, the popular driver who died one week earlier after a crash in testing, came up.

Track announcer Bob Frey spoke for a couple of minutes before a tribute video was shown on Motel 6 Vision and a moment of silence was observed.

Then 2005 Funny Car world champion Gary Scelzi made a solo run down the track -- with the lane reserved for Medlen empty -- as racing resumed and by day's end Funny Car champ Cruz Pedregon, Pro Stock veteran Jeg Coughlin, and Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Matt Smith had joined Bazemore as provisional No. 1 qualifiers.

After aborting his first run, Bazemore ran first in the evening session and quickly moved to the top slot with his 4.514 at 326.87 mph in the Matco Tools rail. Interestingly, no one else in the field managed to go any quicker, leaving him on top for the first time in his brief Top Fuel career.

"I'm surprised to be No. 1 to be honest," Bazemore said, "especially after struggling in Round 1 and being the first pair out. After we put that up there I was sure someone would step it up, especially my teammate Rod Fuller since they knew our tune-up, but it didn't happen."

Melanie Troxel placed her Vietnam Veterans/POW-MIA dragster in between Bazemore and his David Powers Motorsports teammate Rod Fuller with a second-best 4.530 at 323.89 mph. Fuller's Caterpillar rail dropped to third on the grid with a best of 4.533.

Pedregon lived out the zero-to-hero drag racing axiom in one day, going from out of the field to the No. 1 spot with a 4.796 at 300.20 mph in his Chevrolet Monte Carlo in Round 2 after failing to get down the track under power in the opening session.

"Being No. 1 is great and it would be good to keep it through tomorrow but I'd trade it right now for some consistency," Pedregon said. "If we can run another 4.79 in the morning and then step it up and go a little quicker after that I'd be happy, no matter where we end up on the ladder. I just want to get down the track and pull the 'chutes a few times."

Pedregon's brother Tony Pedregon was just a few ticks back with a 4.798 at 291.26 mph in his identical Chevrolet, despite losing his blower belt at 1,100 feet.

For the second race in a row, Coughlin is the provisional qualifying leader in Pro Stock. This time he used an opening-round pass of 6.649 at 208.17 mph to put his Slammers Ultimate Milk Chevy Cobalt on the Day 1 pole. The elapsed time set an HRP track mark.

"To have the quickest car of both sessions is pretty darn impressive," Coughlin said. "As a driver, it gives you a lot of confidence knowing that your crew has such a great handle on the car and the track that you can be quick no matter what lane you're in. That's pretty powerful knowledge to have heading into race day. It gives you confidence."

Points leader Greg Anderson was next in his Summit Racing Pontiac GTO, running a 6.665 at 208.36 mph, a track record speed. Allen Johnson had the quickest with a third-best 6.675 at 206.89 mph.

Smith was the only frontrunner to make a big move in the second Pro Stock Motorcycle session, jumping from third to first with a track-record 6.968 at 191.76 mph on his Buell V-Twin. Earlier in the day, Angelle Sampey and Andrew Hines each ran six-second passes of their own, a 6.973 and a 6.995, that left them in second and third, respectively.

"We hurt one of our motors so we're down to just one," said Smith, who recorded a runner-up finish in Gainesville, Fla. "It would be alright with me if it just rained all day long tomorrow and they set the field. If not, we'll just fine-tune off that run and just be careful with this motor. We want to make sure we're ready for Sunday. I'd be great to get back to the finals and win it this time."

Points leader Karen Stoffer is fourth after a 7.025 at 191.02 mph on her Geico Suzuki.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore , Gary Scelzi , Greg Anderson , Cruz Pedregon , Karen Stoffer , Melanie Troxel , Allen Johnson , Andrew Hines , Eric Medlen , David Powers , Rod Fuller , Angelle Sampey , Matt Smith