Joliet: Saturday qualifying report

TROXEL BEATS FORCE TO FIRST NO. 1 QUALIFIER; SCHUMACHER, COUGHLIN, RIVAS TOP FIELDS AT ROUTE 66 JOLIET, Ill. -- After Friday it looked like Ashley Force would become the first woman in NHRA history to qualify No. 1 in Funny Car. Only Melanie...


JOLIET, Ill. -- After Friday it looked like Ashley Force would become the first woman in NHRA history to qualify No. 1 in Funny Car. Only Melanie Troxel -- the only other woman currently competing in the category - could beat her. On her last chance, Troxel did it.

Troxel and her ProCare Rx Dodge Charger team would need an almost heroic effort to pull it off, and the run itself was no less dramatic. High temperatures and humidity early in the day produced a string of strong thunderstorms and at least one powerful tornado near Route 66 Raceway, delaying the final round of qualifying for Funny Car at the Torco Racing Fuels Route 66 NHRA Nationals until evening. What the track conditions would yield would be anyone's guess, and while Troxel crossed the finish line at 4.752-seconds at 327.27 mph, Tony Pedregon's Q Horsepower ride suffered a spectacular explosion in the lane next to her. Pedregon was uninjured.

"You come into any given race and it's such a tight field, you know it's going to be a struggle just to qualify," Troxel said. "We got down the track on Friday but not in the nighttime session and came into today not even in the field, so that's always a stressful way to start out the weekend. We laid a good number down out there in the third qualifying session, especially for the heat of the day, and we were pretty happy with that, but to be honest with you I thought we're coming up to try a few different things, get down the track.

"Honestly, I'd never run a .70 before, so I wasn't really anticipating that we were going to take that No. 1 spot away. But I knew the second I hit the throttle the car was on seriously good run, and it was quite a handful out there. At the same time that I'm trying to wrestle it and keep it in the center of my lane, I see Tony (Pedregon) in the other lane going up in a ball of flames. It was a pretty wild ride."

Troxel, who grew up with NHRA drag racing under the tutelage of her father, appreciates the historical significance of being the first woman to qualify No. 1 in Funny Car, but would rather celebrate her accomplishments with a focus on her driving career, not her gender.

"I think for any driver it is definitely the goal, you want to be the No. 1 qualifier," Troxel said. "You want to win races...The female aspect of it really isn't that important to me. I understand it's noteworthy and I don't have a problem with it, but personally for me, as far as goals I set out, I'm not trying to measure up to the other females in the sport, I'm trying to measure up to everybody out there."

Five-time and defending NHRA POWERade Series world champion Tony Schumacher used his Friday night performance of 4.513 at 331.69 to grab the No. 1 spot heading into Sunday's race, electing not to run in the final qualifying round after the strong storms moved through the area.

"They called for hail, and I think my crew chief took off," said Schumacher with a laugh. "You know, either way, if we go down the race track -- we know how to go down the race track. If we stay number one, we run into No. 16. And if someone bumps us, we run into 15, 14, 13 or 12. They're going to have to cowboy up in the morning, go down the race track. It's not going to be like this; it's going to be hot. We just want to win this race. We have a lot of friends, a lot of family. This would be one of those great ones to win. We have excellent momentum. We've done extremely well early in the season and we want to continue that."

In Pro Stock, Jeg Coughlin usurped Friday's top performer, Warren Johnson, to earn his first No. 1 qualifier of the year and the 13th of his career.

"The conditions were great," Coughlin said. "The clouds came in, which makes the track a little bit tighter, where the crew chiefs can get out there a little bit more. That dropped the times down a little bit more than what we expected in (the final qualifying round)...It was exciting qualifying for us. It's the most consistent we've been since the drop of the throttle back in February. The guys have been working hard to get a consistency in the car. We didn't have any bad luck, so that's very exciting."

After 48 races, Chris Rivas earned his first career No. 1 with a 7.027 at 187.29 on his G-Squared/S&S Racing Buell.

"I'm glad it's official," Rivas said. "I'm really glad it happened at this event in Chicago, here, for the whole crew at S&S. The headquarters for Drag Specialties is just down the road, and this is kind of their home event too, so we're kind of back home for all of the main sponsors on our bike, so it's a really good thing for them...Obviously for me, it's a really good thing. It's the best I've ever qualified in my whole career, so I'm excited."

-credit: nhra

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Jeg Coughlin , Tony Pedregon , Ashley Force , Melanie Troxel , Chris Rivas