Richmond Saturday report

Bernstein, Force, Grant, Hines Lead Qualifying at Pennzoil Nationals by Larry Sullivan DINWIDDIE, Va. - SUMMIT FastNews - Kenny Bernstein, John Force, Barry Grant and Matt Hines were the leaders in their respective professional categories...

Bernstein, Force, Grant, Hines Lead Qualifying at Pennzoil Nationals

by Larry Sullivan

DINWIDDIE, Va. - SUMMIT FastNews - Kenny Bernstein, John Force, Barry Grant and Matt Hines were the leaders in their respective professional categories following final qualifying Saturday at the fourth annual Pennzoil Nationals presented by Trak Auto. The $1.6 million race is the sixth of 22 events in the $30 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Bernstein snared the Top Fuel pole position on his final qualifying attempt, running in the last pair of cars down the track. His 4.637 second 314.79 mph run reset both ends of the Virginia Motorsports Park track record and knocked Joe Amato out of the top spot. It was the first time Bernstein had qualified in the number one position since October '96, at the Texas Motorplex. "This has really been a roller coaster season, up and down. We were chasing it pretty hard - we did not think this would happen when we came up there. It was not the best conditions, but the cloud cover helped."

Amato held the number one spot in Top Fuel through three rounds of qualifying and almost through the fourth, his Friday night 4.647 at 304.05 holding off Team Winston driver Gary Scelzi, who covered the Virginia Motorsports Park quarter-mile in 4.661 seconds at 305.60 mph for the second-quickest pass today.

Larry Dixon, driving for drag racing legend Don "Snake" Prudhomme, failed to qualify for only the second time in his career.

Force qualified number one for the first time this year. The seven-time Winston Champion held on to the top spot in Funny Car with his Friday night track record elapsed time and speed of 4.887 at 310.66 . Force, in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, Cruz Pedregon, the number one qualifier at the last three national events, Tim Wilkerson, and Chuck Etchells were the only Funny Cars to run in the four-second zone.

Force promised to have his "game face on" for Sunday's eliminations, hoping to turn his winless season around, because "It's a whole new ballgame_we have adapted to this track real well." This is the longest Force has gone into a season without a victory since 1989.

Barry Grant , Dahlonega, Ga., qualified number one at an NHRA event for the first time in his Pro Stock career. Grant, driving an Oldsmobile Cutlass, ran 6.926 at 197.97 during the Friday evening qualifying session, then sweated it out through both rounds today. Warren Johnson, Sugar Hill, Ga., ran the quickest pass of the day today, but came up just one thousandth of a second short.

Grant only qualified for three of the six prior events this year (including the Winston Invitational), his best efforts a pair of ninth places going into eliminations. He seemed surprised by the outcome, saying, "I really don't think it's settled in yet. It's amazing. I didn't race all last year, so I'm basically a rookie again. The team has been doing a good job this weekend and we've got a fast car and I'm a pretty good learner, so we'll see how it works out tomorrow. I'm looking forward to the first round against Tom (Martino). He's pretty good on the tree, but I'm a good leaver too. It's going to be a lot of fun.

"It's been a wild weekend, that's for sure. Here we are No. 1 and the defending champion isn't qualified. That just shows you how tough it is in NHRA Pro Stock racing. We're No. 1 right now and we're enjoying it. We'll be No. 1 until tomorrow afternoon and it's great."

As Grant said, Winston Pro Stock Champion Jim Yates will not qualify, for the first time in 84 races. The last time Yates, from Alexandria, Va. did not make the show was in October of 1993, in Dallas, Texas. His reaction? "We're just going to keep on doing what got us here. Obviously we've got a problem right now and we're having a little trouble. But we're going to figure it out, whatever it is. We changed just about everything but the carburetor on the car this weekend and it didn't help. On that last pass we changed the carburetor and it ran worse than it has all day.

"Pro Stock is very humbling. You can go from a hero to a zero in one race, or one round for that matter. That's how critical Pro Stock is. But we're going to figure this out. This is the same group of guys working on this car that made it run 6.87 seconds at Gainesville in March. We're going through the process of elimination with the car."

Defending event champion Hines, from Trinidad, Colo., qualified number one for the third time in as many National events. The rider from Trinidad, Colo.. ran a track record 7.292 at 184.04 on his Eagle One Suzuki Friday evening to lead the 16-bike Pro Stock Motorcycle field. Earlier Friday he reset the track speed record at 188.32 mph. Angelle Seeling, aboard the Winston "No Bull" Suzuki, qualified second at 7.336 seconds, 180.10 mph.

Final eliminations are scheduled to start at 11:00 AM Sunday, April 26.

Results provided by the FastNews Network, courtesy of Summit Racing Equipment ** **

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Series NHRA
Drivers Matt Hines , Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , Warren Johnson , John Force , Joe Amato , Gary Scelzi , Chuck Etchells , Cruz Pedregon , Tim Wilkerson , Barry Grant