JOLIET, Ill. – John Force kept his recent hot streak going Friday at Route 66 Raceway by powering to the qualifying lead in Funny Car at the O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries.
Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Scotty Pollacheck (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were qualifying leaders in their categories at the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event.
Force, who won at Bristol, Tenn. two weeks ago and was the top qualifier and finished runner-up at Epping, N.H. last weekend, was the quickest in the 8,000-horsepower category during a rain-shortened day of qualifying at the state-of-the-art dragstrip just south of Chicago. NHRA officials were forced to cancel one of the day's two scheduled qualifying sessions due to early afternoon rain showers.
Still riding the momentum from his success at the past two events, Force covered the distance in 4.035 seconds at 314.02 mph in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to lead the qualifying order.
“Anytime you come to Chicago you usually have killer conditions and after old [rookie Chad] Head went out there and ran 4.05 we knew it was there,” said Force, a three-time winner at this track who has moved from 10th to fifth place in the series standings in the last two weeks . “Anytime you run good you’re excited and I ain’t had a car that runs like this for a while. Mike Neff [crew chief] and the crew did a great job.”
If the performance holds through Saturday’s final two qualifying sessions (4:15 and 7:15 p.m.) it will be the 143rd No. 1 qualifying position of the 15-time champ’s legendary career. Sunday’s eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m.
Force says with the right conditions Route 66 Raceway’s first three-second run in the Funny Car category might be possible. Matt Hagan holds the track record at 4.022 seconds.
“Now, tomorrow, we’ll push it because we made a good run tonight,” Force said. “Then, you might see a three.”
Series leader Hagan was second with a 4.040 at 317.19 in his Magneti Marelli/Mopar/Rocky Boots Dodge Charger and defending world champ Jack Beckman qualified third in his Valvoline/MTS Charger with a 4.043 at 313.15.
Hometown favorite Schumacher, from nearby Long Grove, Ill., led Top Fuel qualifying with a performance of 3.772 at 325.45 in his U.S. Army dragster, edging out Doug Kalitta for the top spot by virtue of his faster speed. Kalitta qualified second with an identical time at a slower speed of 322.34 in his Mac Tools dragster.
“We were actually a bit conservative on the run because we knew we had to make it down the track just in case we have rain tomorrow,” Schumacher said. “But if we don’t have any problems with the weather, the conditions could be even better on Saturday because it will be a couple of degrees cooler. I’m sure that a 3.77 won’t hold for No. 1 tomorrow. But having run the 3.77 on our first pass, that gives us the luxury of going all out on Saturday, and that’s what we plan to do.”
Top Fuel series leader Shawn Langdon qualified third in his Al-Anabi Racing dragster with a 3.789 at 325.92 and Brandon Bernstein, who sat out the last two events recovering from back surgery, was fourth in his ProtectTheHarvest.com/MAV TV dragster with a 3.794 at 323.04.
In Pro Stock, series leader Edwards is in position to earn his 10th No. 1 of the season and 51st of his career as he drove his Interstate Batteries/I Am Second Chevy Camaro to a quick pass of 6.602 at 208.68.
“We made a nice run and feel like we might have been a little bit soft in some areas,” Edwards said. “We didn’t know how many runs we were going to get so we just wanted to get down the track. The conditions will be better tomorrow so we’ll see a lot of changes. I think it will be quite a bit better.”
Defending world champ Allen Johnson was second in his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger with a 6.614 at 208.68 and his teammate, four-time Chicago winner Jeg Coughlin, was third overall in his JEGS.com/Mopar Avenger with a 6.615 at 209.36.
Defending event Pro Stock winner Erica Enders-Stevens, who made history at this event last year by becoming the first female to win an NHRA Pro Stock race, qualified fourth in her Cagnazzi Racing Camaro with a 6.620 at 207.75.
If Pollacheck’s leading time of 6.929 at 191.24 on his Sovereign Star Racing Buell holds he will earn his first career No. 1 qualifying position in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
“We hope that will hold up because we really need a good weekend especially after last week,” said Pollacheck, who qualified fourth at Epping but was upset in the first round by No. 13 qualifier Steve Johnson. “Michael [Ray, teammate] has had a great bike, but we’ve had some gremlins with mine. Hopefully we have them exterminated. I think we do have some left over. That wasn’t a perfect run, so maybe tomorrow we can run quicker.”
Hector Arana Sr. qualified second on his Lucas Oil Buell with a 6.930 at 193.32 and Matt Smith was third on his Viper Motorcycle Company Buell with a 6.937 at 193.82.