Commerce: Friday qualifying report

FORCE, BERNSTEIN, ANDERSON AND HINES LEAD QUALIFYING AT SUMMIT RACING NHRA SOUTHERN NATIONALS COMMERCE, Ga. -- John Force celebrated his 57th birthday with a quick qualifying effort Friday at the 26th annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern...

FORCE, BERNSTEIN, ANDERSON AND HINES LEAD QUALIFYING AT SUMMIT RACING NHRA SOUTHERN NATIONALS

COMMERCE, Ga. -- John Force celebrated his 57th birthday with a quick qualifying effort Friday at the 26th annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals presented by Pontiac at Atlanta Dragway.

Brandon Bernstein (Top Fuel), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock), and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) joined Force as qualifying leaders at the $1.5 million race, the seventh of 23 races in the $50 million POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Force used a track-record performance of 4.686 seconds at 329.58 mph -- the sixth quickest run in class history -- in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to become the early favorite at a race he's won seven times.

"I'm amazed we're in Atlanta and we're running these hero numbers," Force said. "That's not supposed to happen here. I guess the Safety Safari is working overtime to get this track into shape. It's great."

Bernstein was pleased with his 4.521 at 328.06 mph in his Budweiser/Lucas Oil dragster despite having to wrestle his car to a stop after the left rear tire on his dragster went down just past the finish line.

"It was going great right down there nice and smooth," Bernstein said. "Right at the lights when I lifted I felt this huge vibration and had the 'chute out. We got it stopped and when I looked back there the tire was gone.

"We got the No. 1 qualifying spot, but we're going to have to switch to a new chassis. We're not sure why we had that vibration during the run and it's something we can't check here so we'll switch to the new car and check this one out when we get back to the shop."

Anderson proved it's no fluke he's won the last two Pro Stock titles at this event by posting both ends of the track record with a 6.704 at 205.22 mph in his Summit Racing Pontiac GTO to claim the low qualifier position in the provisional field.

"Everybody refers to Atlanta as Warren Johnson's home track, and it is," Anderson said, "but you don't want to forget that I worked for him for 12 years and even though I wasn't driving the car, I was tuning it. Every time we tested I was right here with him. It's not like this is a strange place for me. I know this track better than any other."

Four Pro Stock runs were thrown out by race officials due to a malfunctioning infrared starting line beam in the right lane, resulting in inaccurate 60-foot times on several qualifying attempts. The racers affected by the ruling were Erica Enders, Dave Howard, Mark Pawuk, and Greg Stanfield. Those four drivers all recorded 60-foot times quicker than .970-second; Enders in the first session and the other three in the second.

Hines led Pro Stock Motorcycle with a 7.084 at 187.16 on his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson.

"The first two races were a real big eye-opener for us," Hines said. "We got behind the eight-ball in Gainesville and saw a couple of teams show that they were ahead of us. We were not happy [so] we went back to the shop and got to work."

Qualifying continues Saturday with sessions at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Sunday's eliminations start at 11 a.m.

-nhra-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Mark Pawuk , Warren Johnson , John Force , Greg Anderson , Greg Stanfield , Brandon Bernstein , Dave Howard