Columbus: Friday qualifying report

KIRKERSVILLE, Ohio - Brandon Bernstein and Scott Kalitta drove to milestone numbers and track records Friday during the 40th annual Pontiac Excitement NHRA Nationals at National Trail Raceway. Bernstein, Whit Bazemore, Greg Anderson and Andrew...

KIRKERSVILLE, Ohio - Brandon Bernstein and Scott Kalitta drove to milestone numbers and track records Friday during the 40th annual Pontiac Excitement NHRA Nationals at National Trail Raceway.

Bernstein, Whit Bazemore, Greg Anderson and Andrew Hines lead qualifying in their respective categories at the $2 million race, the 10th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Bernstein set the track record for time with a 4.489 at 328.86 in his Budweiser dragster to lead Top Fuel and become the first driver in the 4.40s at National Trail Raceway. Scott Kalitta set the track record for speed with a 330.39 to become the first driver in the 330s.

"That was pretty spectacular," Bernstein said. "The car left real hard and had the wheels up. Then it started shaking the tires so much so that I almost lifted because I couldn't see. But just like that it drove through it and then just got down through there nice and straight. We're running a new Murff McKinney chassis and we weren't sure how it would react but it was great. It stayed nice and straight both runs.

"It's hard to see at night here. You have to really concentrate on the finish line and keeping the car in the center of the groove. I went out there today on my bike and kind of mapped it all out so I felt pretty comfortable, even though this is my first time here."

Bazemore drove his Matco Tools Dodge Stratus to a 4.774-second run at 325.92, setting both ends of the track record to lead the Funny Car category after two sessions. Qualifying continues at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Saturday. Final eliminations are set for 11 a.m. on Sunday.

"We felt good going into the night session," Bazemore said. "We were second-quickest during the day, and that was shutting it off early, so we were in a position to go for low E.T. In the summer months, Friday night is the time to go for No. 1 and I credit [crew chief] Lee Beard with finding the right tune-up.

"It was a handful down-track. It's a little slick and the groove is very narrow. The car wanted to move around. It's hard driving at night because the car fills up with clutch dust and you really can't see. You have to gauge where you are by feel and by looking at the wall and the centerline, which is hard to see as it is. I can barely see it sitting here [in the pressroom]. Imagine what it looks like going 325 mph."

Anderson drove his Vegas General Construction Pontiac Grand Am to the top in Pro Stock, setting the E.T. track record with a 6.822 run at 201.10. Steve Johns set the track record for speed with a 201.91 in a Chevy Cavalier.

"They've done a great job with this race track," Anderson said. "The new surface is tenfold better than it was last year. My guys have really done a nice job of getting this car to run well in either lane this year and tonight was no exception. They did a great job of reading the left lane and we were able to get low E.T. over there.

"The only concern for us at the moment is the back-half numbers. We continue to struggle from fourth gear on. It's really got us stumped. Still, we were able to run quick enough to be No. 1, so that's good. I can't wait to figure out what's wrong because when we do we'll be that much better."

Hines has the inside track on his fourth low qualifying effort in five Pro Stock Bike races after posting a track record 7.140 at 187.00 mph. The old elapsed time mark of 7.177 seconds was set in 2002 by Hines' brother Matt, the three-time champ who now tunes his younger brother's bike.

"I didn't know that," Andrew said. "I'll be sure and remind him when I get back to the pit. Seriously, Matt's doing a great job tuning this thing and the whole team continues to give me an awesome bike to ride each weekend. My bike is going fast this year. We've got the horsepower.

"This is beyond what I expected. You hope you'll have a bike like this but I don't think I would have expected our two Harleys to be two of the top bikes out here. Coming off last year we were doing okay but we were kind of middle-of-the-pack. We found some horsepower in the off-season but I didn't think it would be enough for us to run like we have been. It's exciting."

Houston winner Karen Stoffer came off her Geico Direct Suzuki just after completing a 7.372-second pass at 177.81 mph. It appeared the front brake of her bike locked up, which immediately threw her clear of the machine. She slid on her stomach for a couple hundred feet before springing up in time to watch her bike continue rider-less into the top-end sand trap.

"That was the weirdest sensation I've ever felt before," Stoffer said after being checked and released by track medical personnel. "I'm not sure what happened but just as a grabbed for the brake the bike went right and I bailed. Other than a scrape on my elbow, I'm fine, but this is a very tough brake for us because we're on a limited budget. I feel so bad for my team owner and my team."

Stoffer, who came off a bike going 183 mph once before during testing, does not have a back-up bike. She is currently 17th in the field and may try to qualify on someone else's No. 2 bike if offered the chance.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Whit Bazemore , Greg Anderson , Scott Kalitta , Karen Stoffer , Brandon Bernstein , Andrew Hines , Steve J