Madison: Friday qualifying report

DIXON SPEEDS TO TOP PASS ON DAY 1 OF SEARS CRAFTSMAN NHRA NATIONALS Tim Wilkerson, Kurt Johnson and Andrew Hines lead their categories MADISON, Ill. -- Surging Top Fuel driver Larry Dixon turned in a 4.614-second run at 321.88 mph for the...

DIXON SPEEDS TO TOP PASS ON DAY 1 OF SEARS CRAFTSMAN NHRA NATIONALS
Tim Wilkerson, Kurt Johnson and Andrew Hines lead their categories

MADISON, Ill. -- Surging Top Fuel driver Larry Dixon turned in a 4.614-second run at 321.88 mph for the best pass of the first day of qualifying at the Sears Craftsman NHRA Nationals Friday night at Gateway Raceway.

The other top runs on Friday belonged to local favorite Tim Wilkerson of Springfield, Ill. in Funny Car (4.863 seconds, 308.71 mph), Kurt Johnson in Pro Stock (6.750, 204.14) and Andrew Hines in Pro Stock Motorcycle (7.126, 187.29).

Dixon has never won here at the Sears Craftsman Nationals, the 12th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Series.

Fresh off of his second win of the season last weekend at the K&N Filters NHRA Supernationals, Dixon and crew chief Dick LaHaie form what has traditionally been one of the most formidable hot-weather teams and Friday was no exception.

Dixon has 37 career wins in his Miller Lite dragster, two shy of Kenny Bernstein (39) for second place on the all-time wins list in Top Fuel, and he is currently in third place in the POWERade Series Top Fuel standings, 68 points behind Doug Kalitta and just six points behind Tony Schumacher.

"We just wanted to get down the track with a good run and get solidly qualified in the field," said Dixon, who's not too confident his run will hold up Saturday. "I believe you will have to run in the high 50s to be No. 1 at the end of qualifying, but I think tonight's run will be good for a top 5 qualifying position."

Wilkerson, from nearby Springfield, Ill., is the hometown favorite in his Levi, Ray and Shoup Chevy Monte Carlo.

"What a great place this would be to hold onto the No. 1 qualifying position and get our first win," Wilkerson said.

Track temperatures were in the 130s during the day Friday, but as the sun set cooler temperatures ensued and Wilkerson took advantage with the top Funny Car run of the day, although he's not too confident it will hold up.

"The track's pretty good," he said. "I think we'll see better times out there (Saturday)."

Kurt Johnson, who earned his first No. 1 qualifying position of the season the previous weekend at the K&N Filters NHRA Supernationals, had just enough in his ACDelco Chevrolet Cobalt to edge out his father Warren Johnson (6.758, 203.46) for the best run in Pro Stock Friday.

"We were very disappointed with what happened in Englishtown," Kurt Johnson said. "We had a great car Friday and Saturday but when we got out there Sunday it was like a totally different car. The tires were spinning every round and another race slipped through our fingers. I said, 'I'm tired of this, we're going testing,' so that's what we did."

"We hit the track in Atlanta Tuesday and it was 94 degrees outside and 130 on the track so we really came in here prepared. I didn't know how it would react tonight when it cooled off a little bit but the car went right down that left lane and put up the number," he said.

Hines' top run in his Vance & Hines Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson came on the final Pro Stock Motorcycle run of the day as the steamy temperatures began to subside.

"(The conditions weren't) as bad as I thought, I ran basically the same numbers (last week when it wasn't as hot) in Englishtown (N.J.), which shows you how far off we were (in the tuneup)," Hines said. "It was hot and greasy, we hit some big bumps and the bike came off the ground."

Hines also had the top qualifying run in the first round of qualifying, but he had slipped to second when he lined up for his second run and reclaimed the top spot after the first two rounds of qualifying.

"We knew we had a lot of room for improvement, luckily we had just enough to take back the No. 1 spot," Hines said. "Luckily the V-rod went right down the track, I didn't have to make a correction and that was the difference between No. 1 and No. 2."

The final two rounds of qualifying will take place Saturday at 5 and 8 p.m.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Kurt Johnson , Doug Kalitta , Dick LaHaie , Tim Wilkerson , Andrew Hines