Joliet: Friday qualifying report

PAST CHAMPIONS RULE FRIDAY QUALIFYING AT TORCO RACING FUELS ROUTE 66 NHRA NATIONALS No. 1 qualifiers are Schumacher, Scelzi, Anderson and Hines JOLIET, Ill. -- It was a night for champions at Route 66 Raceway as POWERade Series titlists Tony ...

No. 1 qualifiers are Schumacher, Scelzi, Anderson and Hines

JOLIET, Ill. -- It was a night for champions at Route 66 Raceway as POWERade Series titlists Tony Schumacher, Gary Scelzi, Greg Anderson, and Andrew Hines led opening day action at the 10th annual Torco Racing Fuels Route 66 NHRA Nationals.

Schumacher's 4.462 at 327.11 mph in Top Fuel got the biggest cheer, but Scelzi's 4.736 at 330.96 mph in Funny Car was just as impressive. In Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, Anderson and Hines thrilled with a pair of track records.

Unlike year's past, Schumacher's provisional top qualifying effort didn't set him far apart from the rest of the Top Fuel field. But it was enough to set the four-time champ up for his fourth low qualifying award of the year on a weekend when his sponsor, the U.S. Army, celebrates its 232nd birthday.

"Alan [Johnson, crew chief] said before the run that the track would take whatever we threw at it and he was right," Schumacher said. "I always used to say that qualifying No. 1 wasn't that important but after winning the championship by just a few points it really was all those No. 1 qualifiers we had that made the difference in the end."

Intent on regaining the POWERade points lead he lost at the last event in Topeka, Kan., "Hot Rod" Fuller pulled in right behind Schumacher with a 4.464 at 328.54 mph in his Fabick Cat dragster. Clay Millican checked in with a 4.483 in the RATT -- Back for More rail, while Bob Vandergriff became just the 19th person in history to run a 4.4-second pass when he dipped to 4.499 in the UPS dragster.

Four-time series champion Scelzi hasn't lead a Funny Car field since the season opener in Pomona, Calif., a race he went on to win in his Mopar/Oakley Dodge. In fact, he's only won four elimination rounds since that event, so it wasn't a big surprise to learn crew chief Mike "Zippy" Neff elected to go back to his Pomona tune-up before posting a class-leading 4.736 at 330.96 mph in Round 2.

"We haven't done much since Pomona so we kind of went back to basics and it worked for us here," Scelzi said. "Chicago is one of those places, like Pomona, where you can just haul ass. We might not see conditions like this again until we get to Indy or beyond. It was a prime time to go for it."

John Force is fifth with a 4.759, while daughter Ashley is ninth with a 4.782 in her identical Ford Mustang.

There were no surprises in Pro Stock as Anderson reset both ends of the Route 66 class records with a 6.617 at 208.94 mph in his Pontiac GTO. The only drama was that he opened qualifying with an off-pace 6.959, which was a distant memory by day's end.

"Friday night's what it's all about," Anderson said. "If you want to be No. 1, that's where you go for it. We hurt our primary motor this morning so we didn't exactly start off the way we wanted but we swapped it out and the back-up we had was good enough that we were able to move to the top. Our back-ups aren't as good as our No. 1 motors but I'll still match them up against what most people run."

Allen Johnson remains competitive in his Mopar Dodge Stratus R/T, finishing the day in second place with a 6.626 at 207.56 mph. racer Jeg Coughlin dropped from first to third in Round 2 despite improving to a 6.632 at 208.17 mph.

Longtime NBA player Tom Hammonds anchors the field with a 6.666 in his unsponsored Cobalt.

Sleeping giant Hines, the reigning three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle champion who has languished outside the top 10 for much of the season, might have finally woken from his slumber Friday. Hines' Harley-Davidson V-Rod carried him to a stout 6.930 at 192.88 mph in the evening session, setting a Route 66 elapsed time record in the process.

"One of our goals for this race was to make four solid runs in qualifying," said Hines, who opened with a 6.987. "We're halfway there. I really want to prove everyone wrong because I've heard the talk that we have no clutch management on our team. I'd put my dad [Byron] and brother [Matt] up against anyone out here and I'm proud to say we had a 1.06-second 60-foot time just now and I ended up with my career-best E.T."

Karen Stoffer was second on her Geico Motorcycle Suzuki, zooming to a 6.951 at 191.13 mph, while points leader Matt Smith coaxed a 6.975 at 190.89 mph out of his Torco Buell. Angelle Sampey (6.977) and Chris Rivas (6.979) also posted six-second passes.

Suzuki racer Geno Scali was sixth with a 7.018 at 193.38 mph, the fastest pass in track history.

-credit: nhra

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Series NHRA
Drivers Clay Millican , Jeg Coughlin , John Force , Tony Schumacher , Gary Scelzi , Greg Anderson , Tom Hammonds , Geno Scali , Karen Stoffer , Allen Johnson , Chris Rivas , Andrew Hines , Matthew Smith , Bob Vandergriff , Angelle Sampey