POMONA, Calif. - Pro Stock driver Jim Yates opened the 2002 NHRA season on Thursday with a track record time during the first round of qualifying for the K&N Filters Winternationals at Pomona Raceway. Doug Kalitta and John Force led their ...
POMONA, Calif. - Pro Stock driver Jim Yates opened the 2002 NHRA season on Thursday with a track record time during the first round of qualifying for the K&N Filters Winternationals at Pomona Raceway.
Doug Kalitta and John Force led their respective categories at the $1.9 million race, the first of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.
Yates drove his Pontiac Grand Am down the quarter-mile track in 6.825 seconds at 201.85 mph to take the early lead in Pro Stock qualifying. Pro qualifying continues Friday with a session at 1:30 p.m. and 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday.
"It feels good to be back in the car," Yates said. "Everyone has worked very hard during the offseason but you never know how good you are going to be until you get here."
Yates has experience starting a race at Pomona with the No. 1 qualifying spot. He took the No. 1 spot last November, during the final race of the 2001 season.
"I think we just have a good combination for this track," Yates said. "But I think the parity is going to be even better this season. That is bad for us because we would really like to get out there and run away from everybody."
Kalitta paced the Top Fuel category with a 4.593-second run at 319.90 mph in his Mac Tools Dragster. Kalitta earned one top qualifying spot in 2001.
"We managed to get the best qualifying spot, and we are happy about that," Kalitta said. "But it's early and we have three more sessions to go."
The 2001 Top Fuel champion, Kenny Bernstein, went 8.474 at 90.06 - good enough for the No. 12 spot. Cory McClenathan, back from a year off from racing, was the lone non-qualifier. He smoked the tires before the 60-foot mark, landing in the 17th spot of the 16-car field.
The battle for the 2002 Funny Car crown is under way as Force faced his toughest rival from the 2001 season, Whit Bazemore, during the first round of qualifying. Force was the quickest in the category with a 4.764 run at 322.27 in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. Bazemore has the No. 2 spot after he drove his Matco Tools Pontiac Firebird to a 4.815 at 321.50.
"When I finished my burnout I got on the radio and asked who was in the other lane," Force said. "(Crew chief) Bernie Fedderly said it was my not-so-buddy Bazemore next door.
"Bazemore ran a good time also. He is going to be right there with us. He's already said that (my time) was not bad for an old man and not bad for an old truck driver."
Force said he was pleased with the run since the car was set up just to qualify.
"I don't think it is just us," Force said. "I think a lot of people had a softer set up. But our car has a lot of potential. It feels good just to be qualified right now. That way you are not sweating on Saturday just to get in. The biggest thing is that the crew is ready to fight and I am ready to fight."