Pomona: Thursday qualifying summary

POMONA, Calif. -- Tim Wilkerson clocked a career-best performance Thursday to be the surprise qualifying leader in Funny Car at the K&N Filters Winternationals at Pomona Raceway. Larry Dixon and Troy Coughlin also were leaders in their...

POMONA, Calif. -- Tim Wilkerson clocked a career-best performance Thursday to be the surprise qualifying leader in Funny Car at the K&N Filters Winternationals at Pomona Raceway.

Larry Dixon and Troy Coughlin also were leaders in their respective pro categories at the $2 million race, the first of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Wilkerson drove his Levi, Ray and Shoup Pontiac Firebird to a 4.759 second time at 318.32 mph, just a tick off the track record pace of 4.736 seconds, set by Whit Bazemore in 2001.

"We were looking for a low 4.80 and honestly didn't think it would run that quick," said Wilkerson, who has competed on a limited schedule the past few season but is running the full schedule in 2003.

"It's surprising, but not that much," he continued. "I buy all the parts on my car from (John) Force, so we have some pretty good stuff. I told our sponsor Dick Levi that we wanted to step up and run the full season and see what we can do. I'm serious about this year. I don't think anybody out here takes us lightly. I just hope this isn't premature. I hate to talk this big after the first run of the first race of the season. I don't think the car will go much faster. If conditions are perfect it may go a little quicker. Our goal this season is to make every round, not just one big splash."

Gary Densham was second with a 4.826 at 313.88 in his Auto Club Ford Mustang. Defending series champion John Force was seventh, clocking a 4.916 at 304.19 in his Castrol GTX Mustang.

It was business as usual for defending Top Fuel champion Dixon, who opened the season atop the qualifying order, posting a 4.586 at 313.88 in his Miller Lite dragster.

"Our time won't stand as the best for the weekend," Dixon predicted. "Right now we are just keeping up with the Jones'. There were plenty of cars right there with us, we just happened to be at the top after one round of qualifying."

Dixon, the defending winner of this race, won nine times in a record 14 final rounds in 2002 en route to his first series championship.

"It was very important for us to come out today and make a good run," Dixon said. "I really can't tell you how important. With the Budweiser Shootout on Saturday, we only have two runs to gear up for that and Sunday's race. We wanted to get from point A to point B, get qualified and get our race day setup going for Sunday."

Tony Schumacher, who has been tabbed by many as a serious threat to Dixon's crown, was second in the U.S. Army dragster, covering the distance in 4.593 at 315.19. Darrell Russell was third, recording a 4.604 at 311.92 in his Bilstein Engine Flush dragster.

Coughlin, older brother of defending champ Jeg Coughlin, drove his Jeg's Mail Order Chevy Cavalier to a leading time of 6.809 with a speed of 202.42 in Pro Stock. Mark Pawuk, aided by crew chief Bob Glidden, drove his Summit Pontiac Grand Am to a time of 6.818 at 201.82 to anchor the second position in the 16-car order. Mark Whisnant, also with a pair of new tuners, was third in a Cavalier, running 6.839 at 201.34.

Qualifying continues Friday at 2:30 p.m.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Troy Coughlin , Larry Dixon , Mark Pawuk , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Gary Densham , Bob Glidden , Tim Wilkerson , Mark Whisnant