Charlotte: Saturday qualifying report

DIXON, HAWLEY, JOHNSON AND SMITH ARE NO. 1 QUALIFIERS AT NHRA CAROLINA NATIONALS Funny Car legend John Force fails to qualify in zMax Dragway debut and Countdown to 1 opener CONCORD, N.C. -- Larry Dixon put a temporary hold on Tony ...

Funny Car legend John Force fails to qualify in zMax Dragway debut and Countdown to 1 opener

CONCORD, N.C. -- Larry Dixon put a temporary hold on Tony Schumacher's recent dominance by racing to the No. 1 qualifying position in Top Fuel Saturday at the NHRA Carolinas Nationals. Meanwhile, Funny Car icon John Force failed to qualify in his debut at the spectacular zMAX Dragway and the opening race of the Countdown to 1, NHRA's playoffs.

Frank Hawley, Kurt Johnson and Matt Smith held on to their quick performances from Friday and also will lead their respective categories into Sunday's 11 a.m. eliminations at the first of six races in the POWERade Drag Racing Series Countdown to 1.

Dixon remained atop the Top Fuel starting order based on his performance from Friday, a 3.846 second run at 311.63 mph in his U.S. Smokeless dragster. It was his third top qualifier of the season and 30th of his career. He could meet points leader Schumacher in the second round if both win in the opening round.

"We came here to get qualified and then try and win the event," Dixon said. "If we can win this race, we'll make up ground in the points, but we've got a long way to go for that to happen. Today we were able to run at the back of pack, and that helped us because we could watch the cars that ran before us. We worked on race day set up. (Crew chiefs) Donnie Bender and Todd Smith changed our chassis around before Indy, and the car seems to be working a little better during the daytime. Of course, this track is so nice. It's all concrete, so it is more forgiving for crew chiefs to be able to stand on the gas. It should make for great racing tomorrow."

Schumacher, who qualified ninth in his U.S. Army dragster, could extend several NHRA season records with a win this weekend, including marks for most consecutive victories and elimination round wins.

Two-time NHRA champion Hawley claimed his first No. 1 qualifying performance in Funny Car in more than two decades, driving his Rite-Aid Dodge Charger to a 4.072 at 307.16. Hawley, who posted a runner-up finish last month in Reading, Pa., is competing on a limited schedule this season.

"The team earned this, but we haven't had what you'd call a very consistent performance," Hawley said. "We had a few mechanical problems that have affected our reliability. Hopefully, we've put those behind us. As exciting as it is to be the first low qualifier at this new track, we start all over again tomorrow. When you've got a whole field within six-hundredths, qualifying doesn't matter. We're gonna enjoy this No. 1 tonight, and then that's it. Tomorrow, it literally doesn't matter."

Force, 14-time champion and Countdown-contender, failed to qualify for the second consecutive race and fourth time this season, and put his hopes of winning a 15th season title in jeopardy. It is only the 16th time Force has posted a DNQ (did not qualify) in 513 career races.

"We've put a new chassis in play and have been struggling lately -- we didn't qualify at Indy either," Force said. "We barely got in the Countdown and this doesn't help us because the Countdown starts here. We had the same opportunity as everybody else but we just didn't get the job done. I'd like to apologize to Bruton Smith and all the great NHRA fans here. When they give you an arena like this that brings in so many people and I don't get to be a part of it on the track tomorrow, it hurts. I will be here tomorrow signing autographs and on the starting line watching my other three teams and I'm counting on them to do some damage tomorrow to help me out. We'll have a great race tomorrow and we'll go fix this and go on to Dallas."

Pro Stock's Johnson earned his second top qualifying effort of the season and 29th of his career by powering to a 6.680 at 206.95 in his ACDelco Chevy Cobalt.

"The hard part of Pro Stock is qualifying," Johnson said. "Compared to qualifying, Sunday is fun. It's huge for this team to come in here and run like we did. I've got to get by Vinnie Deceglie first, but if we do get by first round and we've got to run either Greg (Anderson) or Dave (Connolly) second round, it's going to be a tough match. It's all about points at this point. It's a bigger race for them first round because one of them is going to go home. You're going to see more of this the next five races, that's for sure. Every run's huge. You've got to race the race track, and you've got to be on the (Christmas) tree. You've got to have the whole package to win these days, so it's going to be tough."

Local favorite Smith raced to his fourth No. 1 this season and 11th of his career in Pro Stock Motorcycle, covering the distance with a 6.952 at 192.08 on his NitroFish Buell.

"This feels pretty awesome," said Smith, a native of nearby King, N.C. "Hopefully we can capitalize on this and win tomorrow. We went back to our normal setup this morning and ran 6.98. We put a new tire on it for the fourth qualifying run, and it shook and spun, but they usually do that on first pass, so I think that we'll be fine for tomorrow. This is the best track I've ever been on. The fans have been great. I'd love to see a second event here and that's not just because I'm a local."

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Kurt Johnson , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Matthew Smith , Frank Hawley , Todd Smith